Starbucks, Google and Amazon are accused of “immorally” minimising their UK tax bills in a critical report by a group of MPs.
The public accounts committee (PAC) criticised the companies for the “unconvincing and, in some cases, evasive” evidence they gave on why their corporation tax payments are so low.
The report has been published the day after coffee giant Starbucks said it was looking at its “tax approach” in the UK.
MPs warned there are many multinationals exploiting tax laws to move offshore profits that are clearly generated in the UK and called on the government to “get a grip”.
Margaret Hodge, who chairs the public accounts committee, said: “Global companies with huge operations in the UK generating significant amounts of income are getting away with paying little or no corporation tax here.
“This is outrageous and an insult to British businesses and individuals who pay their fair share.
“Corporation tax revenues have fallen at a time when securing proper income from taxes is more vital than ever.
“There is little credible information about what is going on. The evidence we took from large corporations was unconvincing and, in some cases, evasive. HMRC also lacked clarity when trying to explain its approach to enforcing the corporation tax regime.”
Starbucks told MPs it had made a loss for 14 of the 15 years it has operated in the UK, making just a small profit in 2006.
In its report the committee said it found that claim “difficult to believe” and said it was “inconsistent” with claims the company was making about its success to shareholders.
MPs rounded on Amazon’s representative saying they were left frustrated because he was “evasive and unprepared to answer legitimate questions”.
While the company had a UK operation involving 15,000 staff it pays little corporation tax in the UK.
HMRC should be challenging this but its response so far to these big businesses and their aggressive tax planning has lacked determination and looks way too lenient. Margaret Hodge
It said the company’s UK website reported a turnover of £207m for 2011 but its tax expense was just £1.8m.
The report said Google accepted profits should be taxed in the countries where they are generated but “undermined its own argument” because it remits its non-USA profits, including from the UK, to Bermuda, which has an advantageous tax regime.
Google’s UK boss Matt Brittin told Channel 4 News last week that the tax Google paid was “the right amount of tax as defined by the systems set up by politicians” adding that the company’s wider contribution to British society should be taken into account by Google bashers.
Read more: Google fights back on tax
The PAC criticised HMRC for undermining the system because it was “selective” in its prosecutions and warned smaller companies could feel victimised.
Mrs Hodge called for companies that abused the system to be “named and shamed” for failing to meeting tax obligations and urged the government to toughen up legislation.
She added: “HMRC should be challenging this but its response so far to these big businesses and their aggressive tax planning has lacked determination and looks way too lenient. Policing the tax system must be at the heart of what HMRC does.
“It must be more aggressive and assertive in confronting corporate tax avoidance. This is essential for the credibility of both the department and the tax system.
“Confidence in our tax system can only be maintained if every company and every individual is seen to be paying their fair share. That requires HMRC to act firmly now.”