HMRC have always been keen to seek out those who fail to register for tax, since 2011 they have been using CONNECT.
According to Accounting Web:
It uses a mathematical technique to search previously unrelated information and detect otherwise invisible ‘relationship’ networks. Using Connect, HMRC sifts through information on property transactions at the Land Registry, company ownerships, loans, bank accounts, employment history, voting and local authority rates registers and compares with self-assessment records to spot taxpayers who might be under-declaring or not declaring income.
Connect has made links between tax records and third party data from hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, insurers and even gas SAFE registrations. DVLA records and the shipping and Civil Aviation Authority registers help identify owners of cars and planes who declare income that the computer suggests cannot support such purchases.
During August 2016 (Consultations end in October 2016) they issued 3 new consultations:
Tackling the hidden economy: Sanctions
Tackling the hidden economy: Extension of data – gathering powers to Money Service Businesses
The criteria used to assess if an activity is a hobby or a business are:
- The size and commerciality of the activity.
- The frequency of the activity and transactions
- The application of business principles.
- Whether there is a genuine profit motive.
- The amount of time devoted to the activities.
- The existence of arm’s-length customers (as opposed to just selling your wares to family and friends).
HMRC have some great examples to help you decided, for example
Gail is a full-time employee working for a stationery company. She pays her PAYE tax on this employment every month.
In her free time Gail makes cushions and uses most of them in her home. Occasionally she sells them to friends and work colleagues for an amount that just covers the cost of materials of £15. Sometimes she makes a loss. Any money she does make goes towards her holiday fund.
She decides to make extra cash by selling cushions on an Internet auction site and starts auctioning three or four to see how they go. They all sell for more than £50, a profit of at least £35 each.
She uses this money to buy more materials and within a month she is selling around ten cushions a week, always at a profit, and is considering setting up her own website.
Gail’s initial sales of cushions to friends are not classed as trading. It lacks commerciality and she does not set out to make a profit. The occasional sales are a by-product of her hobby. Once she begins to auction her cushions, she has moved into the realms of commerciality.
She is systematically selling her goods to make a profit. She will need to inform HMRC about her trade, and keep records of all her transactions. On the level of sales shown in the example the potential turnover of around £26,000 is well below the VAT annual threshold so Gail does not need to register for VAT.
Don’t wait for HMRC to track you down, register now and declare the tax you owe!