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 Osborne signals action on adviser penalties for tax avoidance in Budget

The Budget is likely to include new measures introducing penalties for accountants and others who offer advice or assistance on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, in the wake of recent revelations about HSBC’s Swiss private bank subsidiary, the Chancellor confirmed 

George Osborne’s comments were made in response to an urgent question from shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who asked for a parliamentary statement about what he termed ‘the HSBC tax evasion scandal’.
The question was amended by John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, who said he wanted to make clear it referred to ‘tax avoidance’.
Replying to Balls’ claim that the coalition government had been ‘negligent’ in taking action against HSBC, Osborne described the allegations of tax avoidance as ‘very serious’ and said HMRC was ‘in active discussions’ with the prosecuting authorities.
The Chancellor went on to say:  ‘Ahead of the budget I have set the Treasury to work on providing further ways to pursue not just tax evaders but those providing them with advice.
‘Anyone involved in tax evasion, whatever your role, this government is coming after you. Unlike the last government, who simply turned a blind eye, this government is taking action now and will do so again at the budget.’
However, Osborne stopped short of confirming that any measures introduced in the Budget, due in three weeks’ time on 18 March, would include a new criminal offence of failing to prevent an economic crime.
In a television interview at the weekend Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, indicated that this would be the preferred option for the Liberal Democrat party.
Alexander suggested that this could mean accountancy firms and other advisers paying back ‘millions of pounds’ if their clients were found to have been involved in tax evasion. 
Harris & Co accountants Northampton say that tax evasion is illegal and no professional advisor would ever dream of getting involved in it. Tax avoidance is perfectly legal - Lord Wilberforce confirmed that in a leading case back in 1932. 

The problem is that the definition of "aggressive" is not clearly set out. It is very subjective - what is aggressive for one person will not be for another. 

Without very clear guidance and definitions, it will make it very hard for accountants to know where the line is.

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