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HMRC will require a security from selected businesses to enable them to trade. The security will probably be a cash deposit from the business or director to be held by HMRC, or it might be a bond that is payable on demand
—John Davies, head of technical, ACCA

The start of the new tax year – 6 April 2012 - sees HM Revenue & Customs take on new powers that enables it to ask employers to pay a security where there is a serious risk that they won’t pay over their PAYE deductions or Class 1 National Insurance Contributions (NICs).

ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is advising business large and small to familiarise themselves with the new set up.

John Davies, head of technical at ACCA, says: 'HMRC will require a security from selected businesses to enable them to trade. The security will probably be a cash deposit from the business or director to be held by HMRC, or it might be a bond that is payable on demand.'

HMRC has said that they will use this power 'to target those employers who have a record of using bankruptcy and phoenixism' – this is where directors carry on the same business or trade successively though a series of two or more companies as a way of stepping away from their creditors, leaving debts unpaid with HMRC and legitimate suppliers. However, HMRC has said that it 'will not use these powers where a business is having genuine financial difficulties.' 

John Davies adds: 'We are advising businesses large and small to make sure they’re up to speed on this new development. The security required will vary from case to case, depending on the amount of tax at risk and the previous behaviour of the employer. Employers can appeal against HMRC’s decision. If the security isn’t provided, employers can be prosecuted by HMRC. However, the punishment would be a fine rather than a custodial sentence.'

What’s the situation now?

Currently HMRC can ask for a security for VAT, insurance premium tax, or environmental taxes. HMRC say that in around half of cases, the employer becomes compliant after receiving their first warning letter.

Who will this affect?

HMRC say that this will not have an effect on the ‘vast majority’ of employers who pay their tax on time and in full, nor will it affect employers who are having ‘genuine’ financial difficulties.

HMRC say they are focusing on: 

  • employers that deliberately choose not to pay PAYE or NICs; 
  • ‘phoenix’ businesses that cease trading to avoid tax then begin again shortly after in a different guise; employers who build up large PAYE or NICs debts; 
  • and employers that ignore HMRC attempts to contact them.

John Davies concludes: 'These should be HMRC’s “powers of last resort” after all the other avenues for taxpayers to get up to date with their payments have been exhausted. The powers will be a good thing if they are used to prevent rogue directors from setting up phoenix companies to defraud HMRC and other creditors. 

'The one concern we have is that HMRC may find it hard to distinguish between directors who are deliberately taking money from employees’ wages and diverting it into their own pockets, and businesses which are in genuine financial difficulty and need help rather than sanction. It will therefore be important that HMRC satisfies businesses that it will use this new power only where it has strong grounds for suspecting that abuse is likely to occur.'

- Ends - 

For more information, please contact:

Helen Thompson, ACCA Newsroom
+44 (0)20 7059 5759
+44 (0)7725 498654

Notes to Editors

  1. For more information about the security charge, visit the HMRC website via the 'Related Links' section to the left of this article.
  2. ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is the global body for professional accountants. We aim to offer business-relevant, first-choice qualifications to people of application, ability and ambition around the world who seek a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management. 
  3. We support our 147,000 members and 424,000 students in 170 countries, helping them to develop successful careers in accounting and business, with the skills required by employers. We work through a network of over 80 offices and centres and more than 8,500 Approved Employers worldwide, who provide high standards of employee learning and development. Through our public interest remit, we promote appropriate regulation of accounting and conduct relevant research to ensure accountancy continues to grow in reputation and influence. 
  4. Founded in 1904, ACCA has consistently held unique core values: opportunity, diversity, innovation, integrity and accountability. We believe that accountants bring value to economies in all stages of development and seek to develop capacity in the profession and encourage the adoption of global standards. Our values are aligned to the needs of employers in all sectors and we ensure that through our qualifications, we prepare accountants for business. We seek to open up the profession to people of all backgrounds and remove artificial barriers, innovating our qualifications and delivery to meet the diverse needs of trainee professionals and their employers.