HMRC investigation? Let us help protect your interests

Tax Investigation Management

Tax investigations by HMRC often come as an unpleasant shock for many and can be very stressful.

From the outset communication from HMRC can be quite intimidating as they tend to take an aggressive position and “throw the book”. The enquiry will often embrace many aspects of the business and will typically take the form of a standard template letter padded out in parts by reference to the particular client.

In other cases HMRC will issue a letter which on the face of it looks benign but has far reaching implications if not handled correctly.

At Shipleys we are non-judgmental, vigorous in defending our clients and aim to resolve the investigation in the most efficient manner possible without compromising the quality of our work.

We have the experience and know-how to handle local district cases to large tax fraud cases both in direct and indirect tax (VAT).

And with Shipleys Tax Fee Protection Partner our clients have peace of mind that in the event of an enquiry all professional fees up to the First Tier Tribunal are covered.



Some of the areas in which we regularly assist clients are:

  • Code of Practice 9
  • Code of Practice 8
  • Voluntary Disclosures to HMRC (Onshore)
  • Compliance Checks
  • Negotiated Settlements with HMRC

First steps

  • You need to know what your rights are under enquiry
  • Identify and prioritise of areas of primary concern
  • Assemble and analyse relevant information and evidence in order to quantify the correct tax liability
  • You need advice on what HMRC can ask you to produce – whether you have to provide copies of documents and soft copies of electronic files for example
  • You need an assessment of your accounting systems to know if it is robust enough to withstand scrutiny
  • You want to reduce the risk of an investigation going forward and improve compliance procedures.

How we can help

  • Our team consists of highly experienced ex-HMRC Inspectors
  • We can influence and control the pace of investigation
  • Our specialist knowledge will be utilised to challenge any incorrect assumptions made by HMRC
  • Comprehensive Fee Protection insurance for clients

Remember early intervention by a tax investigation specialist could resolve the dispute relatively quickly; what not do to is to attempt to correspond with the tax man yourself as you could unknowingly put the proverbial “foot in it”.

Are under enquiry? Do you think you are at risk of an investigation? Contact us now for independent advice on your options.


Some tax investigations are random but increasingly the majority are as a result of HMRC’s risk analyses/assessments.

This “risk assessment” process typically compares the results of the business to other similar businesses; it statistically analyse areas such as gross profit margin, mark-up rate and comparisons to earlier years. Where a case is “risk assessed” HMRC cannot decline the invitation to investigate.

Even where HMRC know that there was “nothing in it for them”, officers have openly admitted that they have no choice but to open an enquiry because the risk assessment process had identified the case as warranting an enquiry.

What are the trigger points to look out for?

The short answer is patterns and, to a certain extent, timing.


Most accountants are unaware that whilst HMRC can launch an investigation into a business at any time within the statutory timeframe, enquiry notices are usually timedto be issued at specific times of the year in order to control work flow. Favoured times for issuing enquiry notice are the end of January (accountants busy with heavy workloads) and Fridays (clients receive a shock when opening post on a weekend!).

Nowadays, HMRC typically impose a non-statutory time limit on the taxpayer for producing information requested in the opening letter. Often it will not be possible to provide this within the time frame specified, and it is advisable to make contact very quickly with HMRC if this is the case. This is important in both establishing a relationship with the officer dealing with the enquiry and also gaining maximum penalty mitigation for cooperation in the event there is culpability.


HMRC expect to see consistency across a business, both within the business itself and also across similar sectors. It will expect turnover to be fairly level whilst accepting modest fluctuations in either direction. If turnover goes down it will expect expenses to decrease. If profit decreases HMRC will query if proprietors’ drawings/directors remuneration increases. This crude analysis tool is often misleading and belies the actual reasons for fluctuations leading to businesses that have nothing to hide being flagged up for enquiry.

For example, if turnover increases substantially HMRC may conclude that maybe not all of the turnover in the previous year was declared.  Or if it drops significantly then maybe some has been taken by the owner and not declared? The reality maybe that turnover has increased due to having a exceptionally good year and decreased because of a loss of a large customer or order.

Suspicion is also aroused if the claim in respect of administration expenses increases well beyond what would be expected comparing it with the previous year. HMRC will wonder whether hours have increased (hence the increase in admin expenses) and therefore the officer will wonder why turnover has gone down.

Proprietors’ drawings – a substantial increase could mean that drawings may have been understated in the past, leading HMRC to query whether any cash takings have not been declared. Similarly, if the drawings are less than the salary paid to the highest paid employee HMRC will be very uneasy – business owners are expected to be the highest earners in the business even though the reality is most proprietors in business start ups do not take any drawings in the formative years.

Gross profit margins (GPR) – typically the GPR of the business will be examined over a period of up to 6 years to see whether or not it is consistent. It will also be compared to similar businesses and fluctuations of more than a few percent will arouse suspicion. HMRC has access to a vast database of information indicating what the GPR of a particular type of business should be.

Invoices – An officer will scrutinise invoices carefully to check whether part of the invoices are being paid in cash to disguise the true GPR.

Sectors – HMRC will often target a particular sector because it has become aware of consistent malpractice across the sector. For example, Medical practices, dentists and vets are targeted because they engage locums as self- employed workers whereas in reality it is difficult to show that a locum is self- employed in many typical practices.

Professional footballers and their clubs have been under scrutiny for a few years now mainly because in some cases a player will receive a payment for the exploitation of his “image rights” and HMRC does not approve of this because it reduces or in some cases completely avoids liability to UK tax by devising a structure which holds the image rights offshore.

Umbrella companies and IT agencies using “one-man band” IT companies have been under the microscope for a long time (see IR35), mainly because it is considered that many of them are purportedly engaged as self- employed workers but the reality is that they can be deemed to be employees.

Standard of living – does an individual have the means to finance his/her standard of living? Information will be gained in this regard from a variety of sources, giving HMRC details of property owned, cars, boats, bank accounts, horses etc. Although there will often be perfectly reasonable explanations as to how such assets may have been acquired it may not stop HMRC delving further.

People often think they can outwit HMRC and stay one step ahead. However, they should be well aware of that most of the tricks which the unscrupulous businessman may try has been seen and dealt with by HMRC many times over and they underestimate HMRC at their peril.

If you require help with tax or VAT investigations then speak to our experts on 0114 272 4984 or email

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Spring Budget 2024 – National Insurance and Property Tax cuts

Tax Investigation Management Shipleys Tax Advisors

The spring Budget delivers no surprises

IN WHAT WAS probably his last budget in the current parliament, the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered his Spring Budget today. A timid affair with no real surprises, a symbol of a dying party on it’s last embers.

In today’s Shipleys Tax brief we look at some of the highlights and how it affects taxpayers.

Employees and self-employed

The expected 2% cut in the main rates of primary Class 1 and Class 4 NI was confirmed. From 6 April 2024, the rates will be as follows:

 Main rateRate above upper earnings/profits limit
Self-employed people6%2%

Disappointingly, there are again no changes to the rate or threshold applicable to employers.

Child benefit

The way that the high income child benefit charge operates has long been criticised, in particular the discrepancy that means that a family where each parent earns, say, just under the £50,000 withdrawal threshold can keep the full amount; but a single income household will lose the benefit if they earn more than £60,000.

The long-term solution offered will be to assess eligibility based on “household income”, but this will not be immediate. So in the meantime, from 2024, the withdrawal threshold will be increased to £60,000, and the rate of charge will be lower, at 1% for every £200 of excess income. This means that full withdrawal will not occur until adjusted net income is at £80,000.

Capital gains tax (CGT)

The current CGT rates applicable to gains made on disposals of residential property are 18% and 28%, depending on the individual’s level of income and the size of the gain. This compares to rates of 10% and 20% for other assets, e.g. listed shares. From 6 April 2024, the higher rate will be cut to 24%.

Note: The 18%/28% rates also apply to carried interest gains. Such gains will continue to be subject to these rates.

VAT Threshold

In a long awaited move, the VAT registration threshold will increase from £85,000 to £90,000 from 1 April 2024. The deregistration threshold will increase from £83,000 to £88,000.

Furnished holiday lets (FHLs)

The FHL rules treat short-term letting businesses in a similar way to trading businesses for the purposes of various tax reliefs (including business asset disposal relief), subject to availability and occupancy conditions being met. The FHL regime will be abolished from April 2025. Targeted rules will apply from 6 March 2024 to prevent a CGT advantage being gained via the use of unconditional contracts.

Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT)

Multiple dwellings relief will be abolished for transfers with an effective date falling on or after 1 June 2024. However, transfers where contracts have been exchanged on or before 6 March 2024 can still benefit from relief, subject to a number of conditions. This only applies to properties in England or Northern Ireland, as Scotland and Wales have their own devolved regimes.

Non-domiciled individuals

As predicted by this firm some last year, individuals that are UK residents but have a non-UK domicile (non-doms) can currently access a remittance basis which excludes foreign income and gains from the UK tax net unless they are remitted to the UK. Domicile is a general law concept. From April 2025, the non-dom status for tax purposes will be abolished. Instead, those arriving in the UK for the first time, or following a ten-year period of non-residence, will have a four-year foreign income and gains (FIG) regime, meaning they won’t pay UK tax on overseas income or gains for the first four years. The funds can be brought to the UK with no additional charges. After the end of the FIG period, tax will be paid on worldwide income and gains.

It is also intended that inheritance tax (IHT) will move to a residence-based system from April 2025. Details will be available following a consultation.

Other measures

  • A new UK ISA with an allowance of £5,000 per year will be introduced.
  • Personal representatives will no longer be required to seek commercial loans to pay IHT before applying for a grant on credit (from 1 April 2024).
  • SDLT first time buyers’ relief will be extended to those who purchase new leases under a nominee/bare trust arrangement from 6 March 2024.
  • The scope of agricultural property relief and woodlands relief will be restricted to UK property from 6 April 2024.

More to follow.

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HMRC’s New Dividend Non-Disclosure Campaign

Tax Investigation Management Shipleys Tax Advisors

HMRC HAVE ADVISED that they have commenced a “One to Many” letter campaign directed at shareholders who they suspect may need to declare income from dividends (and/or distributions).

Unfortunately, this typical “wide net” approach from HMRC means that many individuals, perhaps including vulnerable ones, will receive HMRC letters which could be misinterpreted as an accusation of tax avoidance. If you have receive a letter, don’t panic.

In today’s Shipleys Tax brief we look at what you need to know about HMRC’s One to Many letter campaign and how to respond effectively to avoid escalation.

What is HMRC’s One to Many Letter?

The HMRC has initiated a campaign targeting taxpayers who may not have declared income from distributions or dividends. Using data from company year-end accounts, which show significant drops in profit and loss account reserves, HMRC is pinpointing individuals who might have received a distribution or dividend but not declared it on their self assessment tax return.

HMRC… have commenced a “One to Many” letter campaign directed at shareholders who they suspect may need to declare income from dividends

The letter provides a 30-day window for recipients to either declare any undeclared income or to inform HMRC that all income has been accounted for. Ignoring the letter could lead to a compliance check and potential penalties.

Why You Might Have Received The Letter

HMRC’s usual method involves analysing publicly available company accounts to spot decreases in reserves and other factors, which could indicate dividend payments. However, this typically broad approach doesn’t account for dividends payments which may not be chargeable, e.g. they fall within personal and dividend allowances and are tax-free or issues relating to timing. Accordingly, if you’ve received such a letter, it may simply be part of this blanket strategy to ensure tax compliance but it’s best not to ignore it.

How to Respond to the Letter

If You Have Declared Everything:

  • Contact HMRC using the details provided in the letter.
  • Confirm that all necessary declarations have been made.

If You Need to Make a Declaration:

  • Review your tax return and determine if there’s any undeclared dividend income.
  • Visit the HMRC’s GOV.UK link on making a disclosure and use the specific online disclosure facility.

The Implications of Not Responding

Failing to respond to the HMRC’s letter can result in a compliance check and possibly higher penalties if undeclared income is discovered. It’s crucial to take action within the specified 30-day period stated in the letter. If they believe that they have no income to declare, the letter asks them to let HMRC know either by telephone or by email, again within 30 days. If they do not respond, the letter says that HMRC may open a compliance check and charge higher penalties.


The One to Many letter from HMRC is part of a proactive approach to tax compliance. If you’ve received one, take a moment to review your finances and speak to your adviser. With the right response, you can quickly resolve any issues or confirm your compliance, ensuring peace of mind and maintaining good standing with HMRC.

For further assistance or queries, please contact us by phone or email.

Please note that Shipleys Tax do not give free advice by email or telephone. The content of this article is for general guidance only and should not be considered as tax or professional advice. Always consult with a qualified professional before taking action.

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The ABC of Tax Planning with Alphabet Shares

Tax Investigation Management Shipleys Tax Advisors

THE USE OF so-called Alphabet shares has been a staple in the world of tax planning for some time. These types of shares generally allow for a flexible approach to how dividends are paid out to shareholders of a company, enabling a tailored distribution that can be adjusted according to the individual tax circumstances of the shareholders.

In today’s Shipleys Tax brief, we will cover the basic concept of Alphabet shares, their benefits and drawbacks, and the likely approach adopted by HMRC to their use.

What are Alphabet shares?

Alphabet shares are so named because they categorize shares into different classes, each denoted by a letter of the alphabet (e.g., Class A shares, Class B shares, etc.). This classification allows companies to assign different rights to each class, particularly concerning dividend payments. The flexibility in dividend allocation means that shareholders can be paid varying amounts, which can be adjusted to optimise their personal tax positions.

What are they used for?

Historically, Alphabet shares have been used as a popular method for family-run businesses to manage internal dynamics and tax liabilities. Families could allocate different dividend rights to members based on their involvement in the business or their financial needs, without altering the overall control or structure of the company.

They have also been employed in start-ups and growing businesses looking to reward key employees with a stake in the company without immediately giving away voting rights or an equal share in the distribution of profits. By issuing different classes of shares to employees, businesses could align staff interests with the company’s performance without giving away significant control.

Families could allocate different dividend rights to members based on their involvement in the business or their financial needs, without altering the overall control or structure of the company.

In corporate fundraising they provided a means to attract investment by offering variable dividend rights while retaining management control. This aspect is particularly attractive to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are keen on securing capital but wary of outside influence over business decisions.

This flexibility makes Alphabet shares a valuable instrument for companies to structure their equity in a way that satisfied a multitude of shareholder requirements.

Tax Planning and Tailoring to Specific Needs

For certain commercial transactions, tax planning with Alphabet shares can be particularly useful in the right circumstances. Generally, you would find the following potential benefits:

– Minimise personal tax liability: shareholders can receive dividends up to the higher-rate tax threshold, effectively reducing their income tax liability.

– Utilise allowances and rates: shareholders can make full use of their dividend allowance and lower tax bands.

Minimise personal tax liability: shareholders can receive dividends up to the higher-rate tax threshold, effectively reducing their income tax liability.

– Planning for succession: Different classes can be allocated to future generations for long-term planning, without disrupting the current control of the company.

– Family estate planning: Alphabet shares can help in assigning income to family members in lower tax brackets where circumstances allow.

Not all a bed of roses

While Alphabet shares offer flexibility as seen above, they come with a rack of potential drawbacks that can complicate their use.

– Administrative Burden: maintaining different classes of shares requires meticulous record-keeping and administrative oversight. Each class may have its own dividend schedules, voting rights, and restrictions, which must be managed and documented appropriately.

– Legal Challenges: alphabet shares can sometimes lead to legal challenges, especially if shareholders feel their rights are being impinged upon. Disputes may arise over the interpretation of rights attached to various classes, or if there are allegations of unfair treatment among shareholders.

– Corporate Governance: having multiple share classes can complicate corporate governance. The differing rights and privileges can lead to conflicts of interest and make decision-making processes more complex.

What sayeth the Taxman?

HMRC views Alphabet shares with a healthy degree of suspicion because they can be used to artificially manipulate income streams for tax advantages. One specific piece of anti-avoidance legislation (“the settlements legislation”) can apply if HMRC believes that Alphabet shares are being used to divert income to someone else and reduce tax liability.

In the context of family businesses, the use of Alphabet shares for estate planning must be done with caution. HMRC may challenge arrangements that appear to be designed to avoid inheritance tax, particularly if shares are rapidly transferred between family members in a way that seems to be timed to minimise tax liability for example.

HMRC views Alphabet shares with a healthy degree of suspicion because they can be used to artificially manipulate income streams for tax advantages.

As such, if not structured correctly, the arrangements can be easily challenged under these anti-avoidance regulations, leading to the tax advantages being negated, tax investigations and potential penalties.


Alphabet shares can be a useful tool for tax planning when used correctly. They allow for a high degree of flexibility and can be tailored to meet the specific needs of both the company and its shareholders. However, their use must be considered carefully, with a clear understanding of the potential pitfalls and the close scrutiny they attract from HMRC. As always, when considering the use of Alphabet shares, it is prudent to seek professional advice to ensure that they are implemented effectively.

For further assistance or queries, please call 0114 272 4984 or email

Please note that Shipleys Tax do not give free advice by email or telephone. The content of this article is for general guidance only and should not be considered as tax or professional advice. Always consult with a qualified professional before taking any action.

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