HM Revenue and Customs has been criticised for its heavy handed approach in making spot checks on restaurants' takings.
Unannounced visits are not particularly new for Customs and Excise, but the fact that Revenue staff are also present and that they are altering the operation of the tills to extract audit trails of entries is a new practice.
This "aggressive" approach is worrying many businesses, according to John Cassidy, tax investigations partner at consultancy PKF.
"Whilst former Customs officers are authorised to make such visits, former Revenue officers are not," he said. "We were previously told that the Revenue would not piggy back on Customs' powers."
HMRC knows that certain types of till can be set up to suppress takings so that businesses can evade both VAT and income tax and is sending in specially trained officers to businesses using those tills to extract a full audit trail of the till entries.
"We know of at least one case where the alterations made to the computer till were not reversed and have caused the restaurant's staff problems ever since," Cassidy said. "It is understandable for HMRC to sharpen up the targeting of its tax investigations but this should not be allowed to slip over into sharp practices at the taxpayer's premises.
"This sort of disruption of businesses is not acceptable and will make it far less likely that taxpayers will cooperate with other HMRC intervention activities," he added.
By Daniel Thomas
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