The Revenue Commissioners have warned business owners they risk prison if they fail to pay their taxes on time despite tough economic conditions.

The warning is contained in guidelines issued by the collector-general outlining the Revenue's approach to non-tax compliant businesses.

While an emphasis is placed on the importance of early notification and intervention by businesses in trouble, the Revenue will not hesitate to use all measures at its disposal if a court rules in its favour and a debt remains unpaid.

"Revenue will seek to recover the debt by way of enforcement of that judgement whether by way of forced sale of an asset that is the subject of a judgement mortgage, by way of instalment order grated by the court followed by committal to prison in the event of non-payment or by way of bankruptcy petition," the collector-general states.

Businesses or tax payers who fail to pay their taxes as they fall due or pay late are, in effect, using the Revenue as an "unauthorised source of credit", according to the guidelines, and will prompt a swift response. And although the riskiest cases will be targeted first, all non-compliant businesses will be examined thoroughly by Revenue staff.

While the Revenue is "sympathetic" to the occasional cash flow difficulties caused by extraordinary events, it "cannot and will not accept an ongoing failure to meet tax commitments and allow a business continue to trade and accumulate further debts to the Revenue". Businesses that notify the Revenue early in their troubles will be looked on more favourably.