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Tax Investigations Are An Uneven Match Between Small Business And The Tax Inspector

Jun 8, 2008
The essential first step to be taken by a small business un regard to a tax inspection happens long before that small business is advised a tax enquiry is about to take place. That first step is to obtain and retain receipts and third party evidence for every sale and purchase and maintain accurate accounting records.

A solid system of bookkeeping accounts provides the basis to defend any tax investigation. The fact that any questions asked by the tax authority can be explained with real financial paperwork has the effect of giving the tax inspector confidence that the accounts and tax calculations are accurate.

Despite the best intentions of a small business the tax enquiry that small business faces is undoubtedly an investigation between a businessman naive in the thousands of statutes and taxation regulations against a professional tax inspector trained and experienced in where to find the loopholes. The match is akin to a schoolboy football team that has never played before taking on a professional side of league status who train and play every day.

The difficulty most small business has to deal with is apparently innocent questions from the tax inspector the answers to which cost the tax payer money. The tax inspector may ask numerous questions to which the tax payer does not necessarily have to answer or agree to. The solution is always to stick to the solid bookkeeping facts as shown in the accounting records.

Under UK law there is no regulation stating that a tax payer has to attend a meeting with the tax inspector. Meetings with tax inspectors can result in many questions being asked which increase the tax liability from lack of knowledge of the tax rules and sheer frustration by the small business to get the job done and over with. If called to a meeting a professional tax advisor or experienced accountant attending on behalf of the client or in place of the client is undoubtedly a better option.

If the small business accepts a meeting with the tax inspector it is important to prepare for the meeting correctly. Such preparation would involve reviewing all bookkeeping records prior to the meeting and arranging them in a reasonable order, double checking the accounts do not contain any obvious errors and also obtaining from the tax inspector prior to the meeting a detailed note of all areas to be discussed.

The tax inspector will often suggest a meeting at the business premises or the tax payer home. The tax inspector does not have a statutory right to enter the business premises and can do so only by invitation or warrant. The legislation regarding visits to business premises is to be changed from 2009.

Tax inspectors are observant and on visiting the premises will assimilate many areas to be investigated by simply looking around or idle chat with members of staff. When a tax inspector is invited to the home the general lifestyle of the tax payer would be assessed in relation to the profits declared.

There are many examples of how a tax inspection can determine the validity of the accounting records. This list is almost endless.

A visit to a public house might reveal catering sales which had not been declared. A takeaway retail outlet may have a large stock of cartons that subsequently could be checked against purchases and sales. Notices on walls in a reception area might indicate business success that would produce an area to be looked into.

Of course the honest tax payer has nothing to hide but nevertheless such visits can raise many awkward questions that take up time and effort to explain. Many hours of work can be spent producing evidence and discussions which could lead to further difficulties even when there ii nothing to hide.

When a tax inspector writes it is best not to ignore the letters but to respond quickly and factually. Answer questions directly and specifically without opening up further areas for discussion. Ignoring correspondence or avoiding questions leads to more problems than it is worth.

One feature of a tax investigation is to reach an area of the inspection where there is disagreement between the tax inspector and the business. In such circumstances the tax inspector may propose a solution and that solution is often not likely to be in the businesses best interests. When such proposals are made the negotiation skills of the tax payer or his advisor are paramount.

One area a tax inspector may make a suggestion is to adopt a financial solution based upon a model set of financial results. The business can agree to this proposal but does not have to unless the tax inspector can show reasonable deficiencies in the business financial records.

The tax inspector often ask questions when they have no statutory right to the information unless volunteered by the business. Questions may also be asked that are not specific to the current investigation.

Information requests outside of the scope of the tax investigation and personal records can be denied unless the request is reasonable and relevant to the enquiry. Care should be taken in casual conversations either before or after meetings or phone calls as these are times when the business or its staff may answer questions innocently but remember that those innocent chats are with a professional intent on examining every conceivable path to determine if the maximum tax liability has been generated.

The conclusion to the best advice when the prospect of a tax investigation is imminent is first of all to prepare solid accounting records, always respond quickly and specifically to the questions being raised. Keep the chats and answers accurate, specific and short and sweet and to the point.

If the business can afford it then engage a specialist firm of tax advisors to negotiate on behalf of the business. The best tax advisors are often either experienced tax accountants or former revenue employees who know the rules and can conduct the enquiry on behalf of the business in a professional manner.
About the Author
Terry Cartwright, CEO DIY Accounting, a qualified accountant in the UK, designs Accounting Software on excel spreadsheets and Payroll Software for small to medium sized business providing a complete accounting solution and also supplies Company Formation packages for new limited liability companies
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