HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is increasingly using 'Google Street View' as a monitoring tool to catch suspected tax evaders.
Revenue inspectors are using the online neighbourhood-watcher, Google Street View, to try to prove people have undeclared income. The website provides a kerbside view of homes and businesses, giving inspectors a quick way to assess a person’s lifestyle and see whether it matches their declared income.
For example, major home improvements or expensive cars parked in the driveway could suggest that someone is earning more than they say.
Accountants, UHY Hacker Young say that in one case that they worked on, Street View was used to provide clues as to whether a family was using a private school, thanks to the widespread practice of advertising school fêtes on signs in parents’ gardens.
Roy Maugham, tax partner in the accountants' London office, said: “HMRC believe there’s a big discrepancy between what people are earning and what they are declaring, which is driving a massive push to recoup some of the loss.
“They are using every possible bit of information that the internet is making available, and Google Street View is being seized on as a quick and cheap alternative to visiting someone’s home.”
The information collated is being stored on HMRC’s £50 million so-called super-computer. And their various specialist taskforces are also being deployed to investigate professionals and types of taxpayer which HMRC feels are especially prone to tax evasion.
However, since Street View is not updated regularly, UHY Hacker Young has warned that using it could encourage HMRC to pursue people whose tax affairs are in fact in perfect order.
Roy Maugham said: “There are limitations to relying on the information Google Street View provides. Out-dated evidence could lead to the HMRC making serious misassumptions about undeclared income, which innocent tax payers will then have to dispute.”
“In the case of the school fête we were able to point out that the poster was actually on the neighbours’ side of the fence, but it may not always be so easy for taxpayers to prove their innocence.”
HMRC are also monitoring suspected tax evaders’ social networking feeds, such as Twitter and Facebook, to glean further information about their lifestyles.
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Susie Hughes © Shout99 2013