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Digital Side Hustles and HMRCs Crackdown: A Guide for the Modern Entrepreneur

By admin
23 May 2024
Tax Investigation

In recent years, the term “digital side hustles” has become synonymous with the pursuit of additional income through online platforms. A digital side hustle can encompass a variety of activities, from freelancing in web design, writing, digital marketing, to selling products on e-commerce platforms, or even monetising a blog or YouTube channel. The accessibility of the internet allows individuals to leverage their skills and hobbies into profitable ventures that can be managed alongside their primary careers.

However, this surge in digital entrepreneurship has also caught the attention of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), which is intensifying efforts to ensure tax compliance across these modern income streams.

The Scope of HMRC’s Campaign

HMRC has recently launched a significant crackdown targeting individuals involved in digital side hustles. This move aims to address the tax compliance issues surrounding the rapidly evolving digital economy. With thousands of “nudge letters” being dispatched, HMRC is signalling a clear message: it’s time to get serious about tax compliance.

These nudge letters are not mere reminders but a proactive approach by HMRC to encourage individuals to review and declare their income accurately. Failure to respond appropriately could lead to substantial fines, sometimes amounting to as much as 100% of the undeclared tax owed. This campaign underscores the importance of maintaining diligent financial records and being fully aware of one’s tax obligations.

Online income from overseas companies

HMRC has already been granted the authority to request data on the earnings of sellers, including their bank account information, from UK-based apps and websites.  However, an issue for HMRC arose when it came to digital platforms that are situated overseas (such as holiday rental websites). These caused issues in identifying individuals who were failing to declare taxes due on their income.

In order to address this issue, HMRC has agreed to adhere to the regulations set out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This enables HMRC to investigate the tax affairs of UK individuals who earn income through companies operating abroad. In return, HMRC will also exchange information with other tax authorities that have agreed to participate in the OECD rules.

Why Compliance is Critical

The digital footprint of a digital side hustle is often more substantial than most realise. According to Liam Quirk, CEO of Quirky Digital, the evidence of our online activities is more traceable than ever. This digital trail makes it relatively straightforward for tax authorities to identify discrepancies in reported income and actual earnings from digital platforms.

For those engaged in digital side hustles, the message is clear: every source of income must be declared on tax returns. This not only includes earnings from primary employment but also any supplementary income generated through digital channels. The failure to do so not only risks financial penalties but could also lead to complications with HMRC, potentially affecting other areas of financial and legal standing.

Best Practices for Managing Digital Side Hustles

Keep Accurate Records: One of the fundamental steps to staying compliant is keeping precise and detailed records of all transactions and income streams. Digital tools and accounting software can simplify this process, helping you track your earnings and expenses efficiently.

Understand Your Tax Obligations: It is crucial for anyone involved in a digital side hustle to understand the tax implications of their activities. This may involve consulting with a tax professional who can provide guidance tailored to the specifics of digital income.

Respond Promptly to HMRC Communications: If you receive a nudge letter from HMRC, take immediate action. Review your financial details, ensure that all your income sources are correctly declared, and submit any necessary adjustments to your tax returns.

Plan for Tax Payments: Set aside a portion of your earnings for tax liabilities. This is especially important for those whose primary income does not have taxes automatically withheld, such as freelance digital work.

The Future Landscape for Digital Side Hustles

As digital side hustles continue to grow, both in popularity and economic significance, HMRC’s scrutiny of this sector is likely to increase. The evolution of digital platforms and the ease of accessing global markets have created a dynamic environment where the traditional boundaries of employment and income are continually expanding. For HMRC, keeping up with these changes is not just about ensuring tax compliance but also adapting to new economic realities.


Engaging in a digital side hustle offers a fantastic opportunity for additional income and professional growth. However, it also comes with increased responsibility, particularly concerning tax compliance. As HMRC steps up its game with targeted compliance measures, individuals involved in digital side hustles need to be proactive in managing their affairs to stay ahead of potential issues.

In the evolving landscape of digital work, staying informed and compliant isn’t just a necessity but a strategic advantage. By adhering to the guidelines and embracing transparency in their financial dealings, digital entrepreneurs can ensure that their ventures are not only profitable but also sustainable and above reproach in the eyes of the law.

Further reading on the crack down on digital side hustles can be found here

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