A “Nudge” for UK Individuals Selling on Online Marketplaces to Pay Taxes

The Covid pandemic and subsequent cost of living crisis in the UK has seen a significant increase in individuals supplementing their income by selling items online. Some have built successful micro-businesses by buying and selling goods through online platforms.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is aware of this activity and has recently ramped up a campaign to collect taxes it believes have not been paid from individuals selling goods on online marketplaces such as eBay, Etsy, and Facebook Marketplace. HMRC is thought to have collected sales data from popular online marketplaces to support issuing a “nudge letter.”
The nudge letters come with individual case reference numbers and detailed information on sales activity. They ask individuals to respond within 30 days summarizing their tax position and make a voluntary disclosure of their undeclared income within 90 days.
The letters state that HMRC knows it has “information that shows you’ve earned money (income) from Online Marketplace sales” and that it “shows you have not told us (HMRC) about some or all of this income”. They request individuals to complete a “certificate of tax position” with the option to bring tax affairs up to date, that they have correctly declared all income, or that they have not declared their income. Individuals are given 30 days to respond with their certificate.

The letters seem to suggest that HMRC has accessed sales data from these online platforms, and while it is not clear which third party has provided this information to HMRC, these platforms often include detailed sales history of its sellers in the public domain. The letters have been specifically sent out to individuals in which HMRC holds information that it can use to open an investigation if individuals do not respond.
Anyone can sell goods up to the value of £1,000 a year without having to pay tax. However, when a UK individual has reached that £1,000 a year threshold HMRC wants to collect tax on the activity. They have access to technology that allows for the tracking of unpaid taxes. In addition, if an individual has set up a business, HMRC will expect all compliance and tax obligations to be timely met.

Observation –Technology has enhanced HMRC’s ability to collect sales data and pursue individuals who have not disclosed and paid taxes on online marketing platform activities. Taking a proactive approach by contacting a UK tax advisor to advise on the best approach for addressing any unreported income or taxes due can avoid much consternation and financial penalties.

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