HMRC's Affluent Unit has almost doubled in size in the last four years as it looks to squeeze revenues from wealthy middle class

 
Jasper Jolly
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There are now 395 employees in HMRC's "Affluent Unit" (Source: Getty)

Tax authorities have increased the number of employees set to investigate middle-class earners, as they push to increase revenues.

The UK's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has increased the number of employees at its “Affluent Unit” by 20 per cent in the last year, according to accountants Moore Stephens.

There are now 395 employees at the unit, compared to 327 in the 2014-15 tax year. The Affluent Unit has almost doubled in size from four years ago when there were only 200 staff.

The unit targets people earning over £150,000 or with wealth up to £20m, which in 2013 covered around 300,000 people in the UK, according to government figures.

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An HMRC spokesperson said: "Affluent individuals represent a greater tax risk than the rest of the population because they are more likely to have more complex tax affairs. It makes sense for HMRC to provide close scrutiny of their tax affairs."

"Taxpayers whose affairs are in order have nothing to worry about," the spokesperson added.

HMRC has come under increasing pressure to improve its performance, with a Public Accounts Committee report last month saying there was a “looming threat” to the agency’s ability to collect taxes.

The taxman’s performance has been seen to improve over recent months, after short staffing led to Britons spending 4m hours in 2015-16 waiting on the telephone to speak to someone. The agency has faced budget cuts in recent years.

Dominic Arnold, a partner at Moore Stephens, said: “HMRC is under political pressure to perform within its budget and it has ramped up its activity this year as the government tries to maximise tax take without increasing headline rates of tax.”

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Increasing the numbers of inspectors has in the past proven a successful way for government to ensure people are complying with tax law.

Arnold said: “The growth of the Affluent Unit shows how HMRC is now focusing its attention on professionals and entrepreneurs who may only be just inside the upper tax bracket. The middle class is next.

“The cost of hiring more inspectors in the Affluent Unit will more than pay for themselves, especially if HMRC obtains new powers of investigation,” he added.

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