‘Hansard’ fears allayed

The Inland Revenue sought last week to end the row over the exchange of information with other government departments when it said it would not hand over tax documents voluntarily.

The Revenue said it was wrong for taxpayers to believe that ‘new gateways’ of communication with other departments had been opened up during disputes previously covered by the ‘Hansard’ ruling

Asked if reports submitted to the Revenue in response to the ‘Hansard’ challenge would be voluntarily released or forwarded to other signatories of the convention, Frank Brannigan, head of the Revenue’s Special Compliance Office, said: ‘No’.

In a letter to John Gwyer, head of tax investigations at Levy Gee, he said: ‘The existing laws of confidentiality remain as before to restrict circumstances in which information can be passed by the Revenue.’

Gwyer pressed the Revenue to deny that a ‘convention’ signed earlier this year by all the main government prosecuting authorities would jeopardise relations with taxpayers who wanted to make a financial settlement with special compliance officers.

The convention remained hidden for several weeks after it was signed until its contents were revealed by Accountancy Age.

It emerged following a high-profile tax case Regina v W, in which the Revenue attempted to carry out a settlement while a criminal investigation was in progress. Many tax experts considered that the Revenue ‘lost control’ of the case and could no longer be trusted to settle with taxpayers without other prosecuting authorities getting involved.

Brannigan denied the case changed the rules. ‘The convention does not make any change to these circumstances. The legislation in Section 182 Finance Act 1989 is very clear. Inland Revenue officials may not disclose information about an identifiable taxpayer, that has not been made lawfully available to the public, other than with the lawful authority or consent of the taxpayer.’

Gwyer said many of his questions had been left unanswered about why the Revenue signed the convention when these rules applied. But he said he was satisfied that confidential reports sent to the Revenue would not be voluntarily disclosed to other government departments.

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