By Christopher Hope
Official figures suggest that HM Revenue and Customs inspectors are increasingly using the controversial powers to monitor people who they suspect are not paying their legal share of tax.
According to a Parliamentary answer, 5,492 requests were granted to revenue officers to spy on people under the Regulatorion of Investigative Powers Act (Ripa) 2000, which was intended to help tackle terrorism and serious crimes.
The figure is an 80 per cent increase in just four years. The figures also show that the overwhelming majority of requests to use the Ripa legislation to spy on people were granted.
Revenue inspectors are known to visit harbours and airfields to trace the owners of luxury yachts, helicopters and private aircraft to look for leads in the battle against tax evasion, which costs the economy £3billion a year.
The use of Ripa powers to spy on people will alarm civil liberties groups. Town councils have already had to control their use of the legislation to investigate minor offences such as dog fouling and littering.
Caroline Spelman, the shadow Communities secretary, said: “We already knew that Labour’s tax inspectors are spying on family homes to prepare for a painful council tax revaluation.
“Now it is clear that the tax officials are using anti-terror powers to spy on the personal tax affairs of hard-working families anything up to fifteen times a day.
“Labour’s surveillance laws are routinely being abused and overused by town hall officials and quangos, turning Britain into a Stasi state.”
The news came after it emerged that middle class professionals are facing an unprecedented crackdown on tax evasion by Government revenue inspectors.
Doctors and dentists are the first group being targeted by HM Revenue and Customs inspectors. Other professional classes such as solicitors, barristers and accountants are expected to be contacted in coming months.
HMRC inspectors have started the crackdown in a bid to tackle tax evasion, which loses the economy around £3billion a year. Experts said that targeting the middle classes was “easy pickings” for revenue inspectors.