Tax dodgers could soon see money owed to the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) taken automatically from their bank accounts, if the revenue get their way.
If proposals made by the HMRC are given the go ahead, officials would be able to seize cash immediately, eliminating the need to chase people through the courts.
The HMRC said that although approximately 95 per cent of taxpayers cough up payment on time, as of March 2006, a balance of £22bn remained outstanding.
Of that sum, it said a £1.2bn debt figure was attributable to unpaid funds from companies and that £5.5bn of VAT and excise duties remained outstanding.
Customs officials have released consultation papers containing the proposal to increase the HMRC's power to intervene directly over late payment in the hope of filling the tax hole.
It said: "Taxpayers who owe money to [HM Revenue & Customs] frequently have sufficient funds or assets to pay their debts, but choose to delay doing so."
At present, the HMRC takes more than 200,000 costly and time-consuming court cases a year for unpaid tax.
But the Chartered Institute of Taxation, which is involved in the consultation process, expressed concern about the proposals and said if the HMRC is granted such powers, sufficient checks and balances would need to be put in place.
CIOT sub-committee chairman John Whiting told The Register that although the proposals "are reasonable as a concept, the issue is safeguards. The Revenue wants its powers and we want our safeguards in return".
Whiting added that a specialist unit would be needed to ensure that proper notice is given to the taxpayer. He also suggested that a taxpayer charter be drawn up.
Taxpayers have until mid-September to add their views to the public consultation on the proposals, which can be viewed here. ®