Taxman rapped in secrecy case

The Inland Revenue has been rapped for using the Official Secrets Act to refuse a taxpayer information to which she was entitled about a self-employment enquiry nearly 20 years ago.

Ombudsman Michael Buckley upheld a complaint from a former freelance court shorthand reporter who wanted to know what a company for whom she worked in 1981 had told the Revenue about her, and why she had been classified as self-employed.

Mrs ‘D’ argued that the decision to make her self-employed without her knowledge or consent had caused her financial loss. In 1997, she approached the Revenue for information and was told, verbally and in writing, that the information concerned was confidential under the Official Secrets Act.

Not to be put off, she repeated her request, citing the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

When the Ombudsman investigated her complaints, the Revenue first said it had been unable to locate any papers and it was likely they had been destroyed.

But Buckley’s staff examined the Revenue’s permanent file on the company, found a memo from the Special Office that carried out the investigation and a reference number, which lead to a file containing much of what Mrs ‘D’ wanted.

As a result, the Revenue had to write to her explaining what information they held, and apologise for mishandling her request.

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