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Tax Avoidance and Evasion

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:10 pm on 25th February 2020.

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Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury 1:10 pm, 25th February 2020

There is a shared desire across the House to ensure that the correct amount of tax is paid and that tax is not evaded, not least because the public services on which we all rely in our constituencies depend on that happening. Since 2010, we have introduced over 100 new measures to tackle tax avoidance, evasion and other forms of non- compliance, which, alongside HMRC’s other compliance work, have secured and protected significant revenue that would otherwise have been lost.

In 2018-19, HMRC brought in an additional £34.1 billion that would otherwise have gone unpaid, including £1.8 billion from the wealthiest individuals and £10 billion from the largest businesses. Our tax gap is at 5.6%—lower now than at any point before 2010 and one of the lowest in the world. To put that in context, in 2005, for example, under a Labour Government, the tax gap was as high as 7.2%. Action has been taken, but there is a shared desire across the House to continue to take further measures on this.

We have achieved that progress through a mixture of enforcement action for those seeking to avoid payment of what is due and through reform, because not all the tax gap is due to malicious behaviour. It can also be due to basic errors, whether that means the data that is used to calculate tax or how the calculations have been assessed. HMRC estimates, for example, that £10 billion of the current £35 billion tax gap is due to taxpayer error rather than evasion or avoidance, all of which shows that the Government have an important role in helping more individuals and businesses to get their tax right first time. A further £4 billion stems from firms going bust while owing tax. Likewise, other areas of the £35 billion tax gap are due to long-standing issues on which there will be a shared desire—for example, tackle tobacco smuggling, which is not a new issue under this Government, alcohol smuggling, and the tax lost through the hidden economy. Many of these are long-standing issues, but the crux of the matter is that the tax gap is at a near record low, thanks in large part to the actions taken by my predecessors in the Treasury.