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How seriously do taxpayers regard tax evasion? A survey of opinion in England

Simon James (University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall, UK)
Robert W. McGee (Broadwell School of Business and Economics, Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville, North Carolina, USA)
Serkan Benk (Department of Public Finance, İnönü Üniversity, Malatya, Turkey)
Tamer Budak (Faculty of Law, Inonu Universitesi, Malatya, Turkey)

Journal of Money Laundering Control

ISSN: 1368-5201

Article publication date: 2 July 2019

Abstract

Purpose

Numerous studies have been done on various aspects of tax evasion in recent years. Some studies focus on compliance, while others examine more esoteric topics, such as optimum tax evasion. A third group of studies discusses theoretical issues, such as when tax evasion can be justified on moral grounds. A few studies have addressed the relative seriousness of tax evasion compared to other infractions. The purpose of this paper is in the latter category.

Design/methodology/approach

Wave 6 of the World Values Surveys (2010-2014) asked hundreds of questions to participants in 57 countries. One of those questions asked whether it was justifiable to evade taxes if one had the opportunity to do so. Another question asked whether it was justifiable to pay cash to avoid paying taxes. It also asked questions about other ethical issues such as bribery, avoiding a fare on public transport, claiming government benefits and buying stolen goods. The present study included those questions in a survey that was distributed to 485 students and faculty members at the University of Exeter in England to determine the relative seriousness of each act. They were asked to select a number from 1 (never justifiable) to 10 (always justifiable) to show the extent of their agreement or disagreement with the commission of the six acts. The goal was to determine how serious tax evasion was compared to other acts that might be considered unethical. One-sample t-test and one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) methods were used for the data analysis.

Findings

The results of the study show that the act considered least serious was paying cash for services to avoid tax followed in order of seriousness by avoiding a fare on public transport, cheating on taxes if you have a chance, buying stolen goods, claiming benefits without entitlement and, with least justification, accepting a bribe in the course of one’s duty. Some interesting results emerged by examining the responses of different groups. Like other studies, the results indicate older groups tend to have a higher respect for the law than younger ones. This was true for the cheating on taxes possibility, but the 30-49 years age group were more opposed than the other two groups to paying cash for services to avoid taxes. In terms of gender, females were significantly more opposed than males to cheating on taxes if you have a chance. The respondents who are married were more opposed to the six acts, including of course, the two tax ones, than non-married persons. There was also evidence that the level of higher education makes a difference to individuals’ opinions.

Originality/value

This is an important study in relation to England. It is the first study to do so. The relative seriousness of tax evasion is compared to other offenses. Mean scores are used to rank the various offenses in terms of relative seriousness. Various demographics are also examined to see whether some groups view tax evasion as more serious than other groups. Those demographics included gender, age, academic major, education level and marital status.

Keywords

Citation

James, S., McGee, R.W., Benk, S. and Budak, T. (2019), "How seriously do taxpayers regard tax evasion? A survey of opinion in England", Journal of Money Laundering Control, Vol. 22 No. 3, pp. 563-575. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMLC-09-2018-0056

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited