Each fraud investigation group comprises six or seven investigators with two or three accountants. The investigators are drawn from fully trained officers who have shown a particular aptitude for investigation work. The team is headed by a group leader. The accountants will have had at least three years working in private practice, industry or commerce and their stay at Special Civil Investigations (SCI) is normally for the rest of their careers.
It will be appreciated form this that in an SCI investigation, the adviser is faced with a level of investigative expertise and experience greater than he will normally have met in any local tax office investigations he has handled. This, and the far more meticulous approach adopted by specialist investigators in line with the serious nature of the cases handled by the SCI, means that the adviser must adjust his own approach when working such investigations.
While some local tax office investigations may be speculative, with no hard evidence of omissions, SCI fraud investigators rarely take on a case unless there is at least substantial prima facie evidence pointing to the commission of serious fraud against HMRC. This accounts for the very high success rate in SCI fraud investigations and for the fact that the average settlement is well in excess of £100,000. As SCI select their cases for investigation very carefully, it is wise to assume that there is a case to answer and advisers should be wary of prematurely concluding that SCI’s suspicions are unfounded. It is unlikely that SCI would start an investigation where the tax perceived to be at risk is less than £150,000. Faced with an SCI investigation, therefore, the best advice the adviser can generally give his client is that he should co-operate in making a full disclosure. This is particularly so since failure to make a full disclosure may still lead to criminal prosecution for deceitful behaviour.