HMRC is increasingly using Google’s Street View application as a monitoring tool to assess suspected tax evaders according to UHY Hacker Young say Harris & Co accountants Northampton, who specialise in providing accountancy services to small and medium sized businesses in Northamptonshire.
Roy Maugham, tax partner at UHY Hacker Young says:
‘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.’
UHY Hacker Young says that revenue inspectors are using 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 numerous and expensive cars parked in the driveway could suggest that someone is earning more than they say.
In one case that UHY Hacker Young 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.
In this instance, the firm was able to point out to HMRC that the poster was actually on the neighbours’ side of the fence, but cautions it may not always be so easy for taxpayers to prove their tax affairs are in order, particularly since Street View is not updated regularly.
‘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.’
UHY Hacker Young says that the HMRC are also monitoring suspected tax evaders’ social networking feeds, such as Twitter and Facebook, to glean further information about their lifestyles.
Kevin Igoe, managing director of PfP, the tax investigation insurance, said:
‘HMRC now routinely scour the internet for information when investigating an individual. This will include checking Google Street View which, whilst it might not seem like a smoking gun, is being used in dozens of cases to build evidence against the taxpayer.’
A spokesman for HMRC said:
‘We do use Google Street View but our investigations have a greater focus in looking at an individual’s bank account, employment history and the value of their property. No tax inquiry would commence purely on the basis of information from Street View — identifying cases for possible inquiry is a very sophisticated process.’