Taxpayers called on officials to close down an alleged scam website, court told

Jamie Wyatt, Michael Hughes and Stephen Oliver.
Jamie Wyatt, Michael Hughes and Stephen Oliver.

A tax official told a jury he received calls from disgruntled taxpayers urging him to close down an alleged scam website.

But Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has no power to regulate or close third party sites which offer to help with tax returns, a court heard.

The four men who ran the site, Richard Hough, Michael Hughes, Jamie Wyatt, and Stephen Oliver, are alleged to have made more than £5m in five months from it.

Justin Savage, from HMRC’s agent strategy team, told the jury anyone can be a ‘registered tax agent’.

“Any taxpayer can deal with us via a third party,” he said. “That person will often have financial or accountancy qualifications, but they do not have to.

“The taxreturngateway site said they were a registered tax agent, which was true.

“But HMRC doesn’t like that to be put on websites because it suggests the organisation using it has been somehow checked or approved by us, which it has not.

“There were inaccuracies in a comparison table on the taxreturngateway site, such as a suggestion you could not fill in a tax return online direct with us, when you could.

“We wrote to taxreturngateay asking them to make a number of changes to the wording.

“Those requests were complied with.

“A number of taxpayers suggested we should have the site closed down, but HMRC has no legal power to do that.

“It became apparent to us any legal action would be a matter for trading standards.”

Wyatt, 27, and Hughes, 26, both of Peartree Rise, Seaton, Seaham, Oliver, 47, of The Folly, West Boldon, and Hough, 43, of Thorpe Waterville, Kettering, Northants, each deny conspiracy to defraud between June, 2013, and June, 2014. Wyatt, Hughes, formerly of Hutton Henry, and Oliver deny a second charge of conspiring to defraud by denying consumers the right to cancel under distance selling regulations.

The trial is in its second week, and is expected to take eight weeks.