Hundreds of Blackpool businesses and traders are to be visited today as a special taskforce swoops on the resort as part of a major clampdown on tax cheats.
Up to 100 HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) staff are to knock on the doors of firms across the town including large hotels, small bed and breakfasts, caravan sites, grocery shops, retail outlets, takeaways and seafront sellers.
They will be putting accounts under the microscope and prosecuting those found flouting the law.
It comes as investigators suspect massive amounts of tax is going unpaid in the resort by traders who make their livelihood from tourism.
The taskforce swoop follows extensive work done by the HMRC to identify potential fraudsters.
Bosses say they have been gathering intelligence by working with other bodies, like the police and Blackpool Council, to cross-reference tax records and identify those who could be cheating on their tax bills.
They have also been looking at the previous records of businesses.
Revenue and Customs say the conservative estimate of the cash they expect to recover from the resort is around £1m, but could end up being much higher than that. The resort has been highlighted after the taskgroup was set up specifically to look at holiday areas. Officers will also be in the Lake District and parts of South Wales, where at least £3m is expected to be recovered in total.
The HMRC says if any anomolies are found when the books are examined, the owners of those businesses and the whole staff will also be looked into.
And Jennie Granger, HMRC’s director general of enforcement and compliance, said: “Our message is clear – if you seek to evade tax or defraud the tax system, HMRC can and will track you down.”
But Gary Pretty, chairman of the Combined Association, which represents Blackpool’s smaller businesses and has more than 1,000 members in total, said he thought the approach seemed “a little heavy-handed. If they find anomolies, they need to investigate but I would have thought they would have done it on an individual basis as opposed to en-masse,” he added.
“I’m sure this (tax evasion) must go on along the line...but people can come into Blackpool quite quickly sometimes and set up for six months and then be gone, so possibly a lot of the people they are looking for are already gone.”
In 2011 alone, £80m was collected by a variety of HMRC taskforces – specialist teams that undertake bursts of activity in specific trade sectors and locations.
A Revenue and Customs spokesman said: “All pubs, hotels, caravan parks, takeaways, grocery shops and licenced premises in Blackpool will be examined by the taskforce.
“If anomalies are found then further action will be taken. As well as the business, the owner and staff will also be personally looked at.
“We have between 10 and 100 HMRC officers who will be part of the taskforce depending upon the size of the business involved.”
Following the intelligence gathering exercise on each business, the taskforce will visit the premises and ask a series of questions, if those questions are answered satisfactorily that will mark the end of the matter. But if they are not answered the taskforce will then carry out a full audit.