Reasons why HMRC might audit your business

Being audited or as it’s officially termed – being under HMRC tax investigation is not something you’d want to ever go through. Not only is it a frightening experience for anyone, they’re also expensive and time consuming.

But what does it mean? What happens when you are audited? And what are the chances being audited anyway?

If you’re facing an audit, you’ll need to provide up to seven years of paperwork to account for all of your business expenses. Many sole traders believe that they need to keep the physical copies of expense receipts, which is a misconception.  HMRC accepts digital receipts too, and for good reason. They don’t fade, get scrunched up or go missing. 1tap backs up everything to the cloud, digital storage is the way to go. You can read more about the rise of digital receipts by clicking here.

Unfortunately, you can never completely eliminate the risk of an audit, but there are ways that you can reduce the risk. HMRC are less likely to audit a trader using an accountant as they have more confidence in traders that have professional representation. As well as keeping some form of records for the last seven years worth of expenses.

We discussed auditing on our 1tap live web series. Watch the video now.

Here are some red flags that can trigger a government audit.

1. HMRC gets a tip off

Why would somebody tip off HMRC for a potential audit?

The most common reasons are:

  • Unhappy acquaintances who may suspect dodgy activity
  • The existence of a cash-only policy at your business
  • Living a lifestyle beyond your supposed means

Make sure you don’t get your business involved in any dodgy deals, or anything suspicious. The risks are not worth it. It would seem unjust to spend money to fit the idea of your income if you receive money from elsewhere, such as inheritance, investments or trust funds. As for the existence of a cash-only policy, in today’s modern day, being able to accept card payments is not an expensive practice to introduce. It also removes that concern from suspicious clients.

2. Regular mistakes on returns

Making a mistake once on your tax return is not something you should worry about too much. They happen and HMRC understands not everyone is a tax expert. So it makes allowances and forgives these one off sins.

However, if you regularly make mistakes on your returns, submitting inaccurate figures or information year after year will make HMRC suspicious. They will cause investigators to start digging. If you’re making mistakes two years in a row, you should get help from an accountant to make sure things will go smoothly from then on – or fire your existing accountant!

3. Numbers fluctuate by large margins

It’s uncommon for businesses to have large fluctuations year on year. Say you’ve had a profitable year in 2015 making  £10,000, but the next year the profit dropped to just £3000.

There could have been a perfectly sound explanation for this, but HMRC is going to notice.

To avoid an investigation, inform HMRC of the reason. While you’re writing your self assessments you can write notes about any of the information you are submitting. So tell them what happened. You were sick and had to cut down on your working hours, there was a lot less work, etc.

4. Years of unprofitability

So you’ve been in business for years, and still hadn’t turned a profit. If you’ve had a lot of investment carrying you through, this isn’t impossible. Years of unprofitability will certainly ring the loud bell at HMRC’s door. Again, our advice is to inform them of the reasons behind your unprofitability.

5. Your figures are inconsistent with industry standards

For most industries, HMRC generally has a pretty good idea of what you should be earning.

Example: It knows a local gardener is unlikely to be earning £500,000 a year. It compares the latest trends and patterns in particular business or profession and evaluates it against other available information.

So, if your figures vary from the industry profession standard wildly, eyebrows will be raised and HMRC tax investigations are unlikely to be far behind.  So if you’ve recently signed a five year deal with a famous record company and have become an overnight singing sensation, you should definitely mention this on the note section of your next Self Assessment.

6. Omission of income

If your business involves working and engaging in transactions with other businesses, your fingerprints are all over their finances. This applies to banks and lenders on interest as well.

It’s important to declare all payments received.

Let’s say you failed to declare you were paid interest, and it comes up during an investigation from the company which paid you that interest – HMRC will not be happy about it and there will be an investigation.

7. You do not have representation

It’s always a good idea to have an accountant to double check your books. Like stated earlier, HMRC doesn’t expect you to be an expert on tax, but you need to be responsible enough to provide accurate books.

Having an accountant represent your business boosts your trustworthiness in the eyes of HMRC and reduces your chances of being investigated.

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