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App Store and listings website businesses to be targeted by government tax crackdown

As part of a government crackdown on tax evasion, anyone running a business online through an app store, listings site of similar service, could face new scrutiny.

Airbnb, eBay, Apple, Gumtree and Amazon could all be required to hand over user information to the government under the new terms.

HM Revenue & Customs said the “hidden economy” - where businesses make money online and don’t declare it – costs the treasury £5.9bn a year in lost tax revenue and has proposed an extension of its powers to go after these businesses.

In its consultation document HMRC proposes to target advertising, app stores and booking and reservation services. Although it doesn’t specifically name any companies in its consultation, it is likely that Airbnb, Apple, Gumtree and Amazon will all be required to hand over details of businesses operating on their platforms.

The information required by HMRC is likely to include names and addresses of sellers, advertisers and app developers on a variety of platforms, as well as the value of transactions made.

HMRC explained that the new data would be compared to existing records in order to identify tax evaders. It anticipates that the clampdown could raise £860m by 2021. Credit card companies already provide similar data to HRMC and the proposals to gather information from app stores and other online platforms are likely to become law next year.

As well as collecting more data from online platforms, it is likely that HMRC will launch a new “disclosure channel”, which will allow online businesses to submit details of untaxed revenue.

Individuals selling personal possessions on listings websites such as eBay, would not be targeted under the proposals, however businesses that fail to pay tax on online sales would be.

HMRC said the consultation and proposed changes were focussed on making it easier for businesses to report taxable income while also "narrowing" the hidden economy tax gap.

A 12 week consultation on the proposals runs until 14 October.

Related article: Trustmark to be created for UK app businesses in ‘sharing economy’


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