VAT cheats have been warned that they have just one month to come clean, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has said.
In July this year, HMRC launched its VAT Initiative in which rule breakers were offered a special plan to put right their tax affairs. The chance to participate, and be guaranteed the conditions contained in the plan, ended on 30 September.
Those who came forward must register for VAT by 31 December 2011. They will then receive their VAT registration number and instructions on how to complete their first VAT return.
Once this has been submitted most will face a lower penalty rate of 10% on the VAT that has been paid late.
Since the opportunity ended, HMRC has been identifying those who did not come forward. Substantially higher penalties and even criminal prosecution could follow.
The VAT Initiative campaign focuses on businesses trading above the VAT registration threshold - for this year, an annual turnover of more than £73,000 - but who have not registered for VAT with HMRC.
The trades affected include construction, business services, hair and beauty, hotels and catering, retail distribution, recreational services, motor vehicle distribution and repair, sanitary and domestic services, agriculture and horticulture, property and road haulage.
Those that did not come forward during the initial offer have been told they still have the chance to do so, as the penalties meted out will be less than if they were caught red-handed.
"I urge anyone with unpaid tax to use it to come forward and avoid potentially lengthy and costly investigations," said Marian Wilson, head of campaigns at HMRC.
"The penalty they will pay will still be lower than when HMRC catches up with them."
HMRC said that it will begin moving in on businesses and individuals that it believes should be registered for VAT in the New Year, with substantially higher penalties and even criminal prosecution a possibility.
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