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

Latest news & blogs…

HMRC starts furlough fraud checks

Tax Investigation Management Shipleys Tax Advisors

HMRC have started to open compliance checks into employers’ Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) claims after sending thousands of “nudge” letters earlier this year advising them that they may need to repay amounts received.

In today’s Shipleys Tax brief we look at what this means and what you should do if you are contacted by HMRC. If you have received correspondence from HMRC and require advice on an investigation or to appeal a penalty assessment, you should seek tax advice as soon as possible to understand your tax position and take necessary action.

What is the compliance check or tax investigation?

The compliance check starts by requesting very detailed information on every employee for which furlough monies were claimed. The letters will not necessarily be sent to the employer’s agent, as not many businesses have an agent for employment tax matters in the same way as for their corporation tax/income tax returns.   

The letter gives a short timescale to provide the information to HMRC. If HMRC issues a formal information notice to obtain the data (if it is not provided in response to the informal request, and there is no ‘good reason’ for the delay – this may detrimentally affect the investigation and potentially increase any CJRS penalties charged. 

The compliance check starts by requesting very detailed information on every employee for which furlough monies were claimed. 

The type and severity of the investigation is completely dependent on the facts of any individual case. HMRC have a specialist unit looking into these claims and you safely assume they will link with other employer compliance units to get the full picture.

It is strongly recommended that you consult a tax lawyer as soon as possible to receive detailed advice on how to take control of the situation and negotiate with HMRC.
What is CJRS/furlough fraud?

There are many ways in which a business could commit furlough fraud or abuse of the CJRS, for example:

  • Getting a furloughed employee to return to work as a ‘volunteer’ without pay
  • Not paying employees the full amount received from HMRC
  • Failure to inform staff that they have been furloughed
  • Not paying employees the full amount received from HMRC
  • Incorrect calculations and errors in furlough claims
  • Employers making backdated claims in periods in which the employee was working
  • Employers pretending to hire staff shortly prior to the qualifying period to take advantage of the payments.

It is strongly recommended that you consult a tax lawyer as soon as possible to receive detailed advice on how to take control of the situation and negotiate with HMRC.

What happens if you were not entitled to claim furlough?

If you are found to not have been entitled to the grant in the first place, or have used the funds inappropriately, the payments can be clawed back by way of a 100% income tax charge regardless of whether the claim was made innocently or deliberately.

As such, HMRC will be able to assess the tax due (and thereby impose the clawback) within four years after the grant was made in the case of an innocent error, six years if the error was careless, and twenty years if the claim was fraudulent.

In cases of serious fraud, HMRC may involve the police and prosecute. This might be using legislation which allows the indictment of a company for the facilitation of tax evasion even if senior management was unaware of the offence, unless reasonable preventative measures were in place.

Businesses are therefore required to notify HMRC if they know (or discover) that they have received a grant to which they were not entitled. Penalties and interest will apply for failure to notify and to the repayment clawback.

Expert Tax Investigation Advisers

If you need HMRC Tax Investigation advice, we have experts that are available to aid you at every stage of the HMRC investigation process. Members of our investigation team are ex-HMRC and have first-hand experience and knowledge of the internal workings of HMRC. Our team specialises in successfully challenging HMRC decisions and will assist you in every aspect of the investigation.

If you are affected by any of the issues above and would like more information, please call 0114 272 4984 or email

Please note that Shipleys Tax do not give free advice by email or telephone.

How to make childcare costs Tax-efficient

Tax Investigation Management Shipleys Tax Advisors

PAYING for childcare can be expensive. The tax system, however, can provide somewhat of a helping hand. In recent years, there has been a shift away from tax relief for employer-supported childcare and vouchers to a Government top-up scheme.

In today’s Shipleys Tax brief we quickly cover how it works, who’s eligible and how it can benefit you.

Government scheme

The Government operate a tax-free childcare scheme whereby parents deposit money into an account which can be used to meet childcare costs and the Government provide a tax-free top up.

To qualify for the scheme, the parent (and their partner if they have one) must each expect to earn at least £1,853.28 over the next 3 months. This is equivalent to 16 hours a week at the National Living Wage of £8.91 an hour. However, if either the claimant or their partner expect to have adjusted net income of more than £100,000 in the current tax year, they cannot benefit from the tax-free top up.

The Government operate a tax-free childcare scheme whereby parents deposit money into an account which can be used to meet childcare costs and the Government provide a tax-free top up.

Eligible parents can access the tax-free top up by setting up an online childcare account for their child. For every £8 that is deposited into the account, the Government will add a further £2, to a maximum of £2,000 a year (or £4,000 a year where the child is disabled). The funds can be used to provide approved childcare, including that provided by childminders, nurseries, nannies, after-school clubs and playschemes, as long as the provider has signed up to the scheme. The care can be provided until the September after the child’s 11th birthday (or up to the child’s 17th birthday if the child is disabled).

The Government top-up scheme is not available to universal credit claimants, and cannot be used in addition to employer-provided vouchers or employer-supported care.

Employer-supported childcare and childcare vouchers

Where an employee joined their employer’s childcare or childcare voucher scheme on or before 4 October 2018, they can continue to benefit from the associated tax relief while their employer continues to operate the scheme. Childcare vouchers and/or employer supported childcare are tax-free up to the employee’s exempt amount. Where the employee is a basic rate taxpayer or joined the scheme prior to 6 April 2011, the exempt amount is £55 per week. Otherwise the exempt amount is £28 per week where the employee is a higher rate taxpayer and £25 per week where the employee is an additional rate taxpayer. The exemption also applies for National Insurance purposes. Employees only have one exempt amount for employer-supported care and vouchers, regardless of the number of children that they have.

It is also possible for employer-provided childcare and childcare vouchers to be made available under a salary sacrifice scheme without triggering the alternative valuation rules.

Where the employee is a basic rate taxpayer… the exempt amount is £55 per week. Otherwise the exempt amount is £28 per week where the employee is a higher rate taxpayer and £25 per week where the employee is an additional rate taxpayer.

Workplace nurseries

No tax charge arises under the benefit in kind rules where childcare is provided in a workplace nursery. Unlike the exemption for employer-supported care and vouchers, there is no cap on the value of childcare that can be provided tax-free in a workplace nursery. However, there are stringent conditions that must be met for exemption to be forthcoming.

Which is best?

Where a parent could potentially benefit from more than one scheme, they should evaluate the options and can choose the one best suited to their needs. Employees in an employer-supported scheme or employer voucher scheme will need to leave that scheme if they sign up for the Government scheme, and will not be able to re-join the employer’s scheme if they change their minds.

If you are affected by any of the issues above and would like more information, please call 0114 272 4984 or email

Please note that Shipleys Tax do not give free advice by email or telephone.

New NIC tax rates – how are you affected?

Tax Investigation Management Shipleys Tax Advisors


On 7 September 2021 Boris Johnson announced that NI and dividend tax rates will be hiked to help fund social care, pay for COVID-19 support and help the NHS backlog.

In todays Shipleys Tax brief we look at who will be affected and by how much?

Firstly, NI rates will increase by 1.25% from April 2022. This will apply to both primary and secondary Class 1 contributions, which will increase to 13.25% and 3.25% for earnings up to, and above, the upper earnings limit respectively. Class 4 rates will also increase to 10.25% and 3.25%. The additional 1.25% will be carved out as a separate levy from April 2023 – essentially it will be a new tax.

To illustrate what this will mean for employees, the following table is a useful reference, assuming the current NI thresholds apply:

SalaryCurrent NI billExpected increased NI billChange

Secondly, the dividend tax rates will also increase by 1.25%, i.e. to 8.75%, 33.75% and 39.35% for basic, higher and additional rate taxpayers respectively. This will mean slightly higher taxation for company shareholders extracting income via dividends. However it remains to be seen how tax efficient this route still is compared to other remuneration strategies given the NIC hike above.

If you would like to know how you are personally affected by the above measures and you’re options going forward, please contact us on 0114 272 4984 or email

Please note that Shipleys Tax do not give free advice by telephone or email.

Load More Posts


Contact us

  • 0114 272 4984
  • Wharf House, Victoria Quays,
    Wharf Street Sheffield,
    S2 5SY

Contact Shipleys today

Want to know how Shipleys can help you with practical tax planning through innovative ideas? Let’s talk. Call or email us directly and a member of our team will be in touch within 48 hours.

Contact us