Six in ten Britons think tax avoidance is “never acceptable”, yet a similar proportion think it’s widespread a survey for HM Revenue and Customs has found.
As part of an ONS survey on “opinions and lifestyle” last year, people were asked for their views on tax avoidance and the use of tax avoidance schemes.
According to the results, 61% said it was “never acceptable” to use a tax avoidance scheme, yet 63% felt the use of such schemes was widespread.
24% of these said it was “very widespread” while 39% thought it was “fairly widespread”.
In comparison, 17% of people thought it wasn’t widespread at all.
And it’s their views that are more in line with the reality of the situation – HMRC said according to its estimates, tax avoidance accounted for 8% of the UK’s £34bn 2013-14 Tax Gap.
“Expressed another way, just 0.5% of total theoretical tax liabilities in 2013-14 were estimated to be lost to tax avoidance,” its report said.
But despite nearly two thirds of people thinking tax avoidance is widespread, nearly the same amount think it’s utterly unacceptable.
According to the results, 61% said it was never acceptable to use a tax avoidance scheme, with the most frequent reason given that “it is unfair on others who pay their taxes”.
A further 10% thought it was sometimes acceptable, 15% thought it was rarely acceptable, and 2% said it was always acceptable.
When they were asked to give reasons for why they felt it was acceptable or unacceptable, the main reason given by those who said tax avoidance was always acceptable was that the schemes were there to be used.
When it came to those who said it was unacceptable, 74% said it was because it was unfair on those who do pay their taxes, while 33% said paying tax was a social responsibility,
28% thought tax paying was important to fund public services and 24% said it was immoral to use an avoidance scheme.
Of those who felt it was sometimes acceptable to use tax avoidance schemes, situations when it was considered okay included: when people couldn’t afford to pay their taxes (16%), when the amount of tax was unacceptable (14%), and when small amounts of money were involved (13%).
According to the survey, 46% of respondents who thought it was sometimes (but not always) unacceptable to use tax avoidance schemes felt that people who can afford to pay taxes or are wealthy shouldn’t avoid paying tax.
23% thought it was inappropriate when large sums of money were involved, and 15% felt that certain people, such as those in the public eye or those who should be setting an example, shouldn’t use avoidance schemes.
When people were asked how much effort they thought HMRC was putting in to reducing tax avoidance, 37% said it did too little, and 30% said HMRC did the right amount, and 3% said HMRC did too much.
43% of people felt HMRC deals more firmly with people who use tax avoidance schemes than it did a few years ago, although 13% felt it was less firm.
Nearly half (48%) of respondents thought it was likely that people who used a tax avoidance scheme would be found out by HMRC, and when they were asked for the potential consequences, cited financial penalties, prison sentence and a criminal record.