Recent reports suggest that HMRC are starting to use and enforce 'Accelerated Payment Notices' (APNs), which were first introduced in 2014. With them any taxpayer can be ordered to pay many thousands of pounds in supposedly due tax – upfront and within 90 days. If the tax bill then turns out to be too high, the taxpayer can apply for a refund for the amount overpaid.
Initially introduced to tax celebrities and the super-wealthy, APNs are now being used by HMRC to pursue middle-income taxpayers.
Somewhere around 64,000 'normal' taxpayers have been targeted by the APNs, each of which must pay the owed taxes in full, within 3 months.
HMRC has defended use of the tactics stating that they help to tackle 'aggressive avoidance schemes', such as film-investment partnerships, which allows the wealthy to lower their tax bill. They also argue that the powers help them claw back owed monies promptly, instead of having to resort to costly court action.
Whilst the general public might not have any misgivings about these tactics being used on the very wealthy, the fact that they are being used to stiff middle-class workers into paying large and disputed tax demands, seems to have gone under the radar so far.
APNs are effectively a blunt instrument, which the taxman can use to beat middle-income workers into paying tax demands; most worryingly, assuming that they are guilty until proven innocent.
At the time of writing, HMRC has collected at least £1 billion using APNs, with £28 million of that being refunded so far; after HMRC admitted that it got its calculations wrong.