By James Slack and Becky Barrow
Anybody who advises a friend to take out an Isa or gives them a similar tax-saving tip risks a £5,000 fine, experts warned yesterday.
They attacked proposed ‘Big Brother’ powers for HM Revenue and Customs which could ensnare those simply trying to help a friend, relative or colleague to cut their tax bill.
Innocent victims could include a person who mentions to a friend in the pub that an Isa is a way of saving £10,200 a year tax-free.
Even a vicar who encourages the congregation to donate money using the Gift Aid envelopes, rather than putting cash straight into the Sunday collection, may fall into the trap.
Charities could also be hit by the draconian new ‘tax avoidance’ law, experts claim.
It will make it an offence to hold any conversation – even in private, with friends – if it offers clues on how to pay less tax.
Professor Anne Redston, a tax and legal expert from King’s College, London, described the proposed legislation as ‘dangerous, disproportionate and an erosion of fundamental freedoms’.
She warned: ‘It effectively criminalises the provision of ordinary advice on taxation by the man in the street.’
The Chartered Institute of Taxation called for the draft Bill containing the powers to be ‘torn up’.
Tax policy director John Whiting said the rules are ‘patently absurd’ and must be rewritten – or risk turning people who are trying to help into criminals.
The proposed rules are contained in the Tax Agents: Deliberate Wrongdoing draft Bill, which is trying to crack down on any ‘tax agent’ whose advice leads to a ‘loss of tax’ for HMRC.
It is the definition of a ‘tax agent’ which is fuelling much of the controversy as it includes anybody who gives tax advice ‘free of charge’ and ‘otherwise than in the course of business’.
This means it is not just tax professionals, such as accountants and financial advisers, but anybody who suggests ways of cutting a tax bill, even though they are completely legal.
The consequences for offering well-meaning advice such as pointing out that saving into a pension attracts tax relief could be extremely expensive, with fines of up to £5,000.
Victims could also be forced to pay a fine worth 100 per cent of the ‘lost revenue’ that HMRC would have got if the advice had not been followed.
Mike Warburton, of accountants Grant Thornton, said: ‘This is really draconian stuff. It is Big Brother.
‘It means everybody will have to tread carefully before they talk to anybody on any financial matter.’