Opinion Former Article

HMRC data sharing plans may infringe civil liberties

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) has responded with concern to HMRC proposals to increase its scope to publish or share more widely the information it holds.  

LITRG supports proposals to publish more data externally about HMRC’s activities (for example on services, budget costs, functions and performance). However, the Group believes there is insufficient evidence and research that the publication of individual-level data, even after efforts have been made to anonymise it, would provide any clear benefit. LITRG is therefore encouraging the retention of the current legislative structure with a more rapid administration process and sharing of HMRC data with other government departments and public bodies only where the case for this is specifically proved.1

LITRG’s Chairman, Anthony Thomas, said:

“The advent of social media has resulted in a huge increase in the volume of personal data in the public domain; publication does though remain a personal choice distinct from the information an individual is legally required to provide to the Government, which can then release the data without consent.

“Taxpayers trust HMRC to make proper use of their personal information, and this trust could be seriously undermined if HMRC share the data with others (particularly outside HMRC) or use the data in ways that are not made clear to taxpayers, and for which their consent has not been sought. A breakdown of that fundamental trust could lead to otherwise compliant taxpayers withholding their personal data.

“As a charity, we are primarily concerned with the most vulnerable taxpayers in society. In this vein we are particularly concerned about the proposal to share public data digitally. Many individuals are digitally excluded and would be unable to view such data; it is crucial that robust safeguards are provided for them should this proposal be endorsed.

“We are encouraged by the success of the ‘Tell us Once’2 project and feel yet more could be done, such as an expansion to include other life events, but always taking great care not to make confidential or sensitive information any more widely available than consented to by the citizen. We would encourage a sharing of data between departments where there is a clear benefit to the citizen but always with the correct safeguards in place and mitigation should things go wrong.”

Notes to editors

1.       Sharing of data between HMRC and other specific departments and organisations such as the Department for Work and Pensions (especially now with the emergence of Real Time Information and Universal Credit), Student Loans Company and Child Maintenance Enforcement Commissioners is already provided for in legislation and can and should be used as much for the benefit of the taxpayer as for compliance purposes.

2.       ‘Tell Us Once’ is a government initiative which allows individuals to report a birth or death to multiple government organisations at the same time. More information can be found here.

3.       HMRC’s Consultation, Sharing and publishing data for public benefit, can be viewed here.

4.       The full response to the Consultation of the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group can be viewed here.

5.       Experts from LITRG are available for interview or to provide background information. Please contact them via the contact details at the top of the page.

6.       The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) is an initiative of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) to give a voice to the unrepresented. Since 1998 LITRG has been working to improve the policy and processes of the tax, tax credits and associated welfare systems for the benefit of those on low incomes. Everything we do is aimed at improving the tax and benefits experience of low income workers, pensioners, migrants, students, disabled people and carers.

LITRG works extensively with HM Revenue &Customs and other government departments, commenting on proposals and putting forward our own ideas for improving the system. Too often the tax and related welfare laws and administrative systems are not designed with the low-income user in mind and this often makes life difficult for those we try to help.

7.       The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) is the leading professional body in the United Kingdom concerned solely with taxation. The CIOT is an educational charity, promoting education and study of the administration and practice of taxation. One of our key aims is to work for a better, more efficient, tax system for all affected by it – taxpayers, their advisers and the authorities. The CIOT’s work covers all aspects of taxation, including direct and indirect taxes and duties. Through our Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG), the CIOT has a particular focus on improving the tax system, including tax credits and benefits, for the unrepresented taxpayer.

The CIOT draws on our members’ experience in private practice, commerce and industry, government and academia to improve tax administration and propose and explain how tax policy objectives can most effectively be achieved. We also link to, and draw on, similar leading professional tax bodies in other countries.  The CIOT’s comments and recommendations on tax issues are made in line with our charitable objectives: we are politically neutral in our work.

The CIOT’s 17,000 members have the practising title of ‘Chartered Tax Adviser’ and the designatory letters ‘CTA’, to represent the leading tax qualification.

James Knell
External Relations Officer
D: +44 (0)20 7340 2702

Low Incomes Tax Reform Group - an initiative of the Chartered Institute of Taxation
1st Floor, Artillery House, 11-19 Artillery Row, London SW1P 1RT

Chartered Institute of Taxation
Registered charity number 1037771

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