High Streets Initiative · 26 April 2018

HMRC backs tax-paying retailers by ramping up pressure on websites facilitating VAT fraud

VAT fraud
Online VAT fraud cost HMRC up to £1.5bn in 2016

The UK’s tax office has asked all online marketplaces to sign an agreement to confront online VAT fraud committed by sellers on their platforms.

The agreement would place greater accountability on platforms such as eBay, Facebook and Amazon make to tackle non-compliant businesses, introducing a number of commitments.

Those that sign up would be obliged to educate online sellers in Britain and abroad about VAT obligations, respond quickly to HMRC requests and take appropriate action, and find ways to inform HMRC of seller information.

As part of its VAT fraud crackdown, HMRC will publish the list publicly and remove any platform which breaches its responsibilities.

Online VAT fraud facts

• Overseas traders selling goods to UK consumers online without VAT
• Undercuts UK sellers by up to 20 per cent
• Cost HMRC between £1bn – £1.5bn in 2016

What is VAT fraud?

In October 2017, a parliamentary investigation found that small UK business owners were being “severely undercut” by overseas competitors selling goods without VAT. MPs claimed HMRC’s response to online VAT fraud had been “dismal”, and also decided online marketplaces had not taken the issue seriously enough.

The tax office recently announced new “world-leading powers” to tackle online VAT fraud through joint and several liability (JSL) rules.

As of January 2018, HMRC had opened 2,100 investigations into non-compliant overseas businesses selling via online markplaces, with 1,300 notices served.

Commenting on the new agreement, Mel Stride, financial secretary to the Treasury, said online marketplaces had enabled many small business owners to grow at a faster rate.

“However, there is a small minority of sellers not paying their fair share of tax, and we’re committed to working with marketplaces on multiple levels to tackle tax evasion,” he added.

Meanwhile, HMRC chief executive, Jon Thompson, said: “The UK has already led the way in holding online marketplaces accountable for VAT fraud committed on their platforms.

“The agreement goes even further to tackle this issue, with online marketplaces committing to helping their sellers understand their tax responsibilities and ensuring we have the information we need to take action against those who do not play by the rules.”

Take a look at more HMRC content:

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and has previously worked as a content editor in local government and the ecommerce industry.

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