The British International Freight Association (BIFA) says the HMRC is placing ever-increasing emphasis on compliance, with stricter enforcement being an inevitable outcome.
BIFA says it constantly explains to its members of the risks they run when undertaking certain types of business and the need to comply with regulation.
One area that is causing considerable concern is VAT fraud and the forthcoming Union Customs Code (UCC), which is being introduced across the European Union (EU) on 1 May 2016, and includes legislation that can be used to tighten up certain regimes.
BIFA notes that in its latest annual report on the VAT Gap based on 2013 figures, the European Commission showed that the difference between VAT due and collected amounted to 168 billion euros.
In real terms this amounts to a VAT shortfall due to fraud and evasion, tax avoidance, bankruptcies and simple miscalculation.
BIFA director general, Robert Keen says that in part the problem is that trade has moved on significantly, whilst regulators have reacted slowly to these changes.
He adds: “In particular, what we will refer to as Internet Trading and the Onward Supply Relief regime seem to particularly lend themselves to fraud. Some overseas websites openly proclaim that they value all goods at a certain price to circumvent the “De Minimis” threshold.”
Prior to Christmas 2015, BIFA says Customs raided warehouses which it was believed contained goods supplied by overseas online traders that were being sold in the UK without VAT being paid or accounted for. Goods worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds were seized during the raids.
BIFA says some of its members have become suspicious of goods being imported under the Onward Supply Relief regime and concerned about their liability relative to VAT. Others are becoming very sceptical about internet-based trade, particularly where the declarant is based overseas.
Some members have also reported that the pattern of trade and vehicles supplied to move goods for exports from the UK to other EU Members States does not make sense to them.