HM Revenue & Customs is going after the data collected by the likes of Airbnb, Gumtree and eBay in a bid to crackdown on a ‘hidden economy’.
Airbnb, for example, claims that its typical UK host can earn an average £2,822 a year by letting their property for 33 days.
HMRC now wants its share after finding that it could be losing as much as £5.9bn a year in tax revenue from people earning money through online platforms and failing to declare it.
A report published last week, titled 'Tackling the hidden economy: Extension of data gathering powers', suggests that HMRC be given the power to demand certain platforms –including advertising and app stores – be required to hand over user data such as value of transactions as well as names and addresses of sellers.
“Many businesses use intermediaries to handle transactions and route custom through to their businesses. With the development of the digital economy, there has been a proliferation of such business models. Intermediaries operate across many industries, for example for restaurants supplying take away food; for hotel bookings; or to enable ticket resale for events,” the report explained, although it didn't name any specific sites.
“These intermediaries provide a framework for smaller businesses to trade. Where a business is using an intermediary to offer goods and services, HMRC believes that the intermediary will be able to provide valuable information that can identify sellers that have not registered with HMRC or who have not declared the full value of their sales.”
The theory is, HMRC could compare those data sets to its own and potentially spot tax evaders.
It is also going after potential loopholes created through innovations likes digital wallets which, when used in conjunction with mobile payment technology, can allow buyers and sellers to bypass depositing into traditional bank accounts.
The government fears it could become a “natural hiding place for those wishing to evade tax” and is seeking additional powers to receive aggregated or transactional data.
HMRC also proposes that the legislation is “future-proofed” so similar data can be requested from new business models as they emerge.
If it is given the powers, HMRC believes it could raise as much as £860m by 2021.