HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are always on the lookout for unexplained cash earnings which have not been declared for tax. However, in one case, a former professional gambler was relieved of a six-figure Income Tax bill after convincing the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) that his wealthy lifestyle was funded by his non-taxable winnings.
HMRC launched an investigation after noticing large amounts of cash being paid into the man's 10 bank accounts. On the basis that there was no reasonable explanation for those receipts, HMRC asserted that he had, over a period of about seven years, failed to declare his income from a taxable trade. Income Tax demands totalling £290,928 were raised against him, together with late payment penalties of £132,193.
In challenging those bills before the FTT, the man argued that the entirety of his income throughout the relevant period represented gambling winnings. He said that he was a highly skilled poker player who frequently won handsomely and that he had a sophisticated system for beating the bookies when placing wagers on the outcomes of football matches.
He had not been employed or self-employed in any capacity during the period and it was only after he forsook his gambling lifestyle that he removed his cash winnings from his safe and began to pay them regularly into his bank accounts. The consistency of those payments was explained by the limited capacity of banks to accept £20 notes into automated machines.
In ruling on the case, the FTT noted that elements of the man's account gave rise to justified suspicion. Successful gamblers tend to be the exception and few people have the sangfroid to risk such large sums of money. However, his evidence, which was backed up by several other witnesses, was consistent and had remained unshaken under cross-examination.
He had given a detailed and lucid explanation of the intricate system he used to win on football matches, which involved careful research and calculation rather than hunches or guesses. He had also demonstrated deep experience and knowledge of high-stakes poker. His account was accepted in full and the FTT found that, apart from any bank interest, he had no taxable source of income during the period. The Income Tax demands and penalties were ruled invalid and overturned.