Unpaid tax 'could be taken from bank accounts'

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The Independent Online

People who do not pay their tax bills could have the cash taken directly from their bank account under proposals unveiled by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

In a consultation document looking at payments and debts, HMRC is also asking for views on whether it should be allowed to demand cash from the sale of land or property, including homes, if people do not pay up.

HMRC can already seize moveable property and sell it to pay tax debts but currently has to get permission from a court to collect the money directly from a person's bank account or to seize property like a person's home.

The consultation document says: "Taxpayers who owe money to HMRC frequently have sufficient funds or assets to pay their debts, but choose to delay doing so. HMRC currently lacks the full range of powers to ensure prompt payment."

The report adds the additional powers "would ensure that taxpayers owing debts to HMRC cannot escape payment where they have sufficient funds to meet their debts".

If agreed, the proposals would mean HMRC would have the right to freeze an amount equal to the outstanding debt within the bank account.

That sum would be paid over to HMRC after a specific period by the bank or building society if other attempts to collect the debt proved fruitless.

If the debtor owns land or buildings, HMRC could demand the tax bill is paid from the proceeds if the asset were sold. Meanwhile, HMRC would continue to pursue the debt using other methods.

There would be a right to appeal but the HMRC's report said the large majority of the 200,000 court orders currently sought each year for unpaid tax are undefended.

The report also pledges the HMRC would take into account the effect action would have on the debtor's ability to pay ordinary living expenses, in the same way a court would.

The report mentions that tax departments in Australia and France already have the power to claim money direct from bank accounts without seeking permission from a court.

The consultation runs until 17 September.

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