VAT fraud ‘fantasist’ is jailed for using tax system as her personal bank account

A tax fraudster, who tried to pass herself off as a titled lady offering a high-class furniture restoration service, was sentenced to more than two years in prison after her con was discovered by routine tax checks.

Lady Deborah Anne Devonshire, 51, falsely claimed that she was trading as a furniture restorer and claimed £166,295 in VAT repayments, with £105,763 paid to her between August 2013 and February 2016.

However, her tax fraud came to light when HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) contacted her to conduct a routine compliance check and discovered that the business was a complete sham.

Investigators could not find any trading activity and discovered Deborah Devonshire’s only income during this period was the VAT refunds fraudulently claimed from HMRC.

Devonshire, from Malmesbury in Wiltshire, pleaded guilty to VAT evasion and fraud by false representation at Swindon Crown Court in February 2017. She was immediately jailed for two years and eight months.

The court heard how she had changed her name to Lady Deborah Anne Devonshire by deed poll and had variously used the names Georgiana Cavendish and Georgiana Lynn-Halls, although she had been born Deborah Church.

Sentencing Devonshire, Mr Recorder Clarkson QC said: “You may be a fantasist. You obviously have created the prefix ‘Lady’ with a view to being someone you are not. You have the style of a fraudster… HMRC’s job is difficult enough.”

Colin Spinks, Assistant Director of HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, said: “Deborah Devonshire fraudulently used the tax system as her personal bank account. She lied about being in business to claim VAT refunds she wasn’t entitled to. There was no business to claim refunds for; it was a total fabrication. We will continue to pursue those criminals who attack the tax system.”

Dr Anjulika Salhan, a director and tax investigation specialist with Salhan Accountants commented: “This tax fraud was uncovered by HMRC during routine compliance checks. Inspectors discovered that VAT had fraudulently been claimed against a non-existent business and referred the matter for a full criminal investigation.

“This case highlights the fact that both HMRC’s dedicated criminal investigation unit and the courts take a dim view of individuals who intentionally set out to commit tax fraud.

“Whilst there are some individuals who will deliberately plot to defraud HMRC, equally many business owners unwittingly fall foul of the tax man’s rules and find themselves under the spotlight of an investigation.

“We have represented a number of individuals who, for a variety of reasons, have found themselves in breach of HMRC regulations. As with all HMRC matters, tax investigations need to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.”

At Salhan Accountants, we work extremely hard for clients subjected to a taxation investigation. We not only clarify the issues and the process, but come up with solutions too.

Our experience, professional reputation, forensic attention to detail and negotiating skills mean we are well-placed to achieve positive outcomes.