Advantage taxman: Wimbledon residents face rent inquiry

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The Independent Online

The Inland Revenue is targeting residents around Wimbledon who earn thousands of pounds renting out their homes during the world's biggest tennis tournament, but fail to declare the earnings.

Tax investigators are reported to be mingling with the crowds in the area during the fortnight of the competition in order to track down the culprits - often middle class families who give up their houses to players and use the proceeds to go on holiday for the duration of the tournament.

Those who are found out will be forced to pay the tax. Anyone discovered to have repeated the offence during a number of years is likely to face a demand for thousands of pounds in back tax, with fines and legal action as an enforcement.

An Inland Revenue spokesman said: "This is a straightforward compliance issue. If people are letting out their properties, then that counts as income and we expect people to notify us on their tax return of how much they have earned." The spokesman said Inland Revenue would use "all normal methods'' to track down the offenders. That is likely to include liaison with the Wimbledon authorities who arrange accommodation for the dozens of players and hundreds of officials.

Although many of the top players stay in central London hotels, others, such as the Williams sisters, prefer to minimise travelling time by staying in houses nearby, often paying as much as £6,000, for a player and his or her entourage. The lower ranking players, such as Ivo Karlovic, the Croat who knocked out Lleyton Hewitt, will stay in budget bed and breakfast accommodation in small hotels.

Investigators also depend on tip-offs from neighbours of those who let out property and who may be jealous of the sums being earned. The spokesman said he could not confirm or deny reports that investigators would be going door-to-door around Wimbledon and questioning people.

There are several organisations which act as letting agencies for the Wimbledon residents. One of these, Tennis London, said players demanded "discretion and security" in any home adding yesterday that demand was "huge" but stressing it gave a list of all 150 places on its books to Inland Revenue. However, those who advertise their properties individually, will be more difficult to track down.Another aspect of the cottage industry that springs up around Wimbledon which is of interest to tax inspectors is the renting out of car parking space on the drives of many of the larger houses in the area, often charging £5 or £10 for the day. Although some do this for charity, Inland Revenue is interested in those who don't, pointing out that the value of the larger driveways could run into several hundred pounds for the fortnight.

Wimbledon is a huge cash cow for the area, attracting nearly 500,000 visitors during the two weeks. Apart from accommodation and parking, the tournament earns money for taxi drivers who operate a constant shuttle from underground and rail stations, for local restaurants, hotels and shops and for local people who are given temporary employment as catering, security or other staff.

Another concern for the Inland Revenue and Trading Standards officers are the rogue traders that cash in by selling food, drinks and counterfeit souvenirs such as T-shirts and posters from temporary stalls near, but not directly outside, the grounds reproducing the famous, but carefully guarded Wimbledon logo.

Investigators will be keeping a close eye on their activities and those who rent the sellers their pitches. Despite the vast Wimbledon shop selling all types of officially sanctioned goods - including key rings, sunglasses, towels and a huge variety of clothes - many visitors choose to buy from the stalls, which are invariably much cheaper.