As many as 50,000 businesses that have failed to submit VAT returns will be targeted by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) this month with warnings that their tax affairs will be closely scrutinised.

More than 600,000 businesses have to put in VAT returns each month and most do so on time. But in a new campaign some 50,000 will be warned that, from 28 February, their tax affairs will attract greater attention.

The VAT Outstanding Return campaign is aimed at businesses that have one or more VAT return outstanding, and have been told to submit their returns but have not done so. Some will have received an assessment of VAT for these periods.

These businesses are being given an opportunity to get up to date and pay the tax they owe by 28 February. After that, HMRC will target them and take a much closer look at their tax affairs. HMRC says that by using this campaign to come forward voluntarily, companies might receive better terms, as any penalty they pay may be lower than if HMRC comes to them first.

Marian Wilson, head of HMRC campaigns, said: “If HMRC has sent you a VAT return and you have not yet taken any action, this campaign is a reminder to bring your tax affairs up to date. But time is running out.

“After 28 February, if they have not submitted their outstanding VAT returns and paid what they owe, HMRC will use its legal powers to pursue outstanding returns and any VAT that is unpaid. Penalties, or even criminal investigation, could follow. “

She said people can take part in the campaign by completing and paying any outstanding VAT returns immediately, or by telling HMRC if they have stopped trading or have changed their business details.

Help is available from HMRC by calling the VAT Helpline on 0845 010 9000. For further help and support about the campaign, customers can visit HMRC’s website: