In May 2019 HMRC reported that it had been involved in unannounced visits alongside the Environment Agency to more than 60 illegal waste sites. At that stage advice and guidance was offered to businesses in order to increase tax related compliance across the industry. However on 16 January 2020 a new formal taskforce was launched called the Joint Unit for Waste Crime ("JUWC"). The aim of the JUWC is to tackle the criminal waste network by bringing together the Environment Agency, National Crime Agency and HMRC. The taskforce will share intelligence and resources in order to target waste crime.
Back in May 2019 HMRC said that they were:
"working jointly with the Environment Agency and other partners to help waste site operators understand what they need to do to comply with their tax obligations in relation to operating a waste site".
However, the January announcement signifies a change of approach, or loss of patience by HMRC as it replaces the provision of advice with the targeting and aggressive pursuit of those in the waste industry that it suspects are breaking the law.
Simon Walker from HMRC's Fraud investigation Service commented:
"we are proud to be part of the JUWC. Waste crime is a blight on our society, with those responsible often involved in a raft of other crimes including large scale fraud that rob our vital public services of much-needed funds".
It will be interesting to see how the various agencies work together and whether they are able to increase the number of prosecutions where they believe wrongdoing has occurred.
Home office Review
In November 2018 the Independent Review into serious and organised crime in the waste sector was published. The Home Office review found that perpetrators of criminal waste were often involved in other serious criminal activity, including large scale fraud and money laundering.
The review commented upon difficulties that the Environment Agency faced in trying to tackle waste crime alone as it did not have the tools to disrupt criminal activity. The report recommended that the Joint Unit for Waste Crime be established and two years on here we are.
The report makes for interesting reading and perhaps provides an insight into how the new joint task force might operate. The authors commented that they did not think that the Proceeds of Crime Act, which allows law enforcement agencies to recover assets following a conviction, was sufficient deterrent. It was felt that the powers to investigate financial crime were underused for waste crime.
If you are a waste management business that has been contacted by HMRC it does not automatically follow that HMRC have a suspicion of criminal activity. However, it is important that you obtain professional advice as early as possible to protect your business and manage HMRC's enquiry. Dealing with an HMRC enquiry, civil or criminal, can be a time consuming and arduous process that can have a significant impact on business continuity. If you have been contacted recently by HMRC or want guidance on your compliance position and would like to know how we can help please contact Nicola O'Connor (Nicola.o'[email protected]) or Chris Young ([email protected])