VAT Fraud: What It Is, What The Penalties Are, And how to Report It

What is VAT Fraud?As a responsible business, ensuring accurate information is submitted to HMRC is crucial. Mistakes or intentional misrepresentation can trigger HMRC investigations, which understandably cause concern.

While HMRC checks may create unease, it is important to recognize the gravity of VAT fraud penalties. Even if you believe you have done nothing wrong, it is advisable to approach an investigation with utmost seriousness.

Seeking professional guidance from experienced solicitors or accountants is paramount when facing an investigation for VAT fraud. Promptly reaching out to these experts without delay is essential for navigating the process effectively.

In the following section, we provide some key insights into VAT fraud investigations and shed light on what you can anticipate

What is VAT Fraud?

VAT fraud can encompass a range of scenarios, including large-scale operations with substantial financial implications. However, it’s important to note that VAT fraud isn’t limited to high-profile cases. HMRC actively investigates lower-level instances often referred to as “evasion.”

It is crucial to understand that regardless of the scale, evasion remains a form of fraud. Merely assigning it a different name will not result in lenient treatment from HMRC. However, it’s worth noting that criminal prosecution is typically pursued when professional involvement is suspected. Nevertheless, facing a criminal investigation is not an automatic outcome for every case.

Section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act outlines several acts considered as criminal offenses.

These offenses include

  • Fraud
  • Fraudulent evasion of VAT
  • False accounting
  • False statements for VAT purposes
  • Conduct amounting to an offence

In addition to the provisions under the Value Added Tax Act, HMRC has the authority to bring charges for VAT fraud under the Fraud Act 2006. This demonstrates the comprehensive legal framework in place to address fraudulent activities related to VAT.

Evasion in the context of VAT fraud encompasses a broad range of actions, including incorrect recording, charging, or payment practices. Its wide scope allows for the inclusion of various types of offenses. Common examples of VAT evasion include operating without proper VAT registration, utilizing an incorrect VAT number, and attempting to redirect payments to different individuals or addresses.

To elicit cooperation and prompt resolution, HMRC may leverage allegations of fraud and the potential for prosecution. This strategic approach aims to encourage individuals involved to acknowledge their wrongdoing and agree to settle their obligations.

Types of VAT Fraud

Learn about the diverse types of VAT fraud, including carousel fraud, missing trader fraud, and false invoicing schemes, and understand how they manipulate the system for unlawful gains.

  1. Carousel Fraud: This sophisticated and organized cross-border VAT fraud involves the importation of goods without paying the corresponding VAT, which is then charged to the customer. The VAT portion of the sale is withheld, leading to non-payment to HMRC.
  2. Missing Trader Fraud: Often connected to Carousel Fraud, this refers to a trader who disappears while owing a significant amount of VAT to HMRC. The trader vanishes without fulfilling their tax obligations.
  3. Cash Fraud: Distinguished from Carousel Fraud, Cash Fraud occurs when a trader intentionally omits charging VAT to customers and fails to record it for VAT purposes. To facilitate this, the trader accepts cash payments, reducing the price for the customer and allowing both parties to benefit from the fraudulent scheme.
  4. Online Fraud: This type of VAT fraud has emerged more recently and involves online sellers who deliberately evade paying the correct amount of VAT. Digital marketplaces bear the responsibility of ensuring that sellers display a valid VAT number on their selling profile at all times. If a marketplace neglects to take action against non-compliant sellers, HMRC can initiate measures against the marketplace itself.

Understanding these different types of VAT fraud highlights the importance of HMRC’s vigilance in combatting fraudulent activities and the need for businesses to uphold their tax obligations diligently

What Are the Potential Penalties for VAT Fraud?

Contrary to certain perceptions, HMRC generally leans toward imposing civil penalties rather than pursuing full criminal prosecutions. This approach allows for a swifter resolution of matters and ensures that businesses fulfill their financial obligations.

However, it is important to note that civil penalties are by no means insignificant. HMRC possesses extensive powers to address VAT fraud, and the penalties imposed can be substantial.

Some of the potential penalties include:

  • Imposing a hefty fine
  • Publicly naming individuals who owe more than £25,000
  • Deprivation or confiscation order
  • Disqualifying and fining company directors personally (typically for failing to fully co-operate at the start of a HMRC investigation)

The determination of penalty fines in VAT fraud cases is based on the specific type of fraud committed and the corresponding value involved.

When it comes to VAT payments and credits, in addition to the requirement to repay the evaded VAT, a penalty of 100% of the value of the evasion can be imposed.

In instances of refund and repayment VAT fraud, the penalty is calculated by adding the amount of overstated input tax to the amount of understated output tax.

However, if a company proactively and voluntarily discloses the fraud to HMRC without any prompting, there is a possibility of a penalty reduction of up to 40%.

In cases where the nature of the fraud is deemed criminal, there is no limit to the potential penalty that can be imposed. Additionally, the courts have the authority to issue custodial sentences of up to 10 years in jail. When determining the criminal penalty for VAT fraud, the judge considers various factors, including:

  • Previous convictions
  • Your degree of involvement
  • The level of harm (or intended harm)
  • Attempts to dispose of or conceal evidence
  • Whether the crimes were committed while on bail
  • Admission of guilt
  • Attempts to falsely implicate others
  • Mental health

Notification of an Investigation

If you find yourself worried about the accuracy of your VAT returns, the prospect of an HMRC investigation may naturally be a concern.

HMRC will inform you if they decide to initiate a VAT investigation, which typically takes one of two forms: an aspect investigation or a full investigation.

An aspect investigation involves HMRC examining a specific area of your business. However, if during the course of their investigation they discover broader concerns, it may expand into a full investigation.

During a full HMRC investigation, every aspect of your record-keeping will be scrutinized by HMRC.

You will receive written communication from HMRC notifying you of the VAT investigation, although they may have already conducted preliminary inquiries. It’s worth noting that unless your business has been selected randomly due to being in a high-risk industry, it is likely that concerns arising from your VAT returns have triggered the investigation.

Approaching the situation with a proactive and cooperative mindset, seeking professional advice, and addressing any concerns raised by HMRC can help navigate the investigation process effectively.

How to Report Vat Fraud?

If you have information or suspicions about VAT fraud occurring in the UK, it is important to report it to the appropriate authorities. To report VAT fraud, you can contact HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) directly through their Fraud Hotline or by filling out an online form on their official website.

Provide as much detailed and accurate information as possible, including the name and address of the business involved, specific details of the fraudulent activities, and any supporting evidence you may have.

Reporting VAT fraud plays a crucial role in combating illegal activities and helps to maintain fairness in the tax system. Your report can make a significant difference in detecting and preventing fraudulent behavior.

Frequently asked questions

What is VAT fraud in the UK?

VAT fraud in the UK is a type of tax evasion. It happens when a business does not charge VAT when they should, or charges you VAT but does not pay it to HMRC.

Is VAT fraud a criminal offence?

Yes, VAT fraud is a criminal offence, under section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act and the maximum penalty for offences tried in the Crown Court is 7 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.


In conclusion, VAT fraud is a serious matter that can have significant consequences for businesses. Whether it involves large-scale operations or low-level cases, HMRC is committed to investigating and addressing fraudulent activities. It is crucial to understand the various types of VAT fraud and the potential penalties associated with them.

If you find yourself facing a VAT fraud investigation, it is essential to take it seriously from the start, even if you believe you are not at fault. Seeking professional advice from solicitors or accountants experienced in tax law is imperative. They can provide valuable guidance, assess your situation, and help you navigate the investigation process effectively.

If you are currently under investigation for VAT fraud or have concerns about the accuracy of your VAT returns, I encourage you to take immediate action. Completing an online enquiry with professionals who specialize in VAT fraud investigations can provide you with the expert assistance you need. By taking proactive steps and seeking appropriate guidance, you can ensure that your rights are protected and work towards resolving the situation in the best possible manner.

Remember, time is of the essence when it comes to dealing with VAT fraud investigations. Take control of the situation today by completing an online enquiry and securing the necessary support to navigate through this challenging process.

David Hanman Consultant Solicitor

David is a Solicitor and Chartered Tax Advisor. David has many years experience of advising clients on Regulatory Fraud matters, involving the smallest to the very biggest cases.

He regularly lectures to the City of London Police on these and related issues. He regularly advises on Confiscation and other consequences that flow from money laundering offences