A tax man told a jury he thought an alleged scam website was ‘entrepreneurial’ but not in a way in which he approved.
Guy Laser was giving evidence in the trial of four businessmen accused of fraud in their running of the taxreturngateway website, which was based in Sunderland.
Richard Hough, Michael Hughes, Jamie Wyatt, and Stephen Oliver, are alleged to have made more than £5m in five months from the site, which offered to help users with their self assessment tax returns.
Hundreds of users complained they were misled into believing they were dealing directly with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Teesside Crown Court heard.
Users thought fees of between £150 and £1,000 paid to the site would come off their tax bill, but it did not.
Mr Laser, described as HMRC’s ‘process owner’ for self assessment, said dealing direct with HMRC at the time of the alleged offences in 2013 was ‘cumbersome’.
“It was our first go at online,” Mr Laser told the jury. “We had a system of registration and passwords issued by post. It was cumbersome.”
The court was told taxreturngateway advertised itself as being easier to use than the HMRC site because there was no need to register.
Mark Wyeth QC, defending Wyatt, asked Mr Laser if he had looked at the taxreturngateway site.
“I did look at it,” said Mr Laser. “I would describe it as entrepreneurial, but not in a way in which I approved.”
The court heard taxreturngateway closed in 2014 after hundreds of complaints were made to trading standards, HMRC, and the Press.
The defendants claim the site offered a legitimate ‘check and send’ service, and it was clear from disclaimers on the home page it was not an official HMRC site.
Wyatt, 27, and Hughes, 26, both of Peartree Rise, Seaton, Seaham, Oliver, 47, of The Folly, West Boldon, and Hough, 43, of Thorpe Waterville, Kettering, Northants, each deny conspiracy to defraud between June, 2013, and June, 2014.
Wyatt, Hughes, and Oliver deny a second charge of conspiring to defraud by denying consumers the right to cancel under distance selling regulations.