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HMRC has ‘exhausted’ Falciani HSBC data

THE DATA contained in the so-called Lagarde List stolen from HSBC’s Swiss arm has been “exhausted”, HM Revenue & Customs has revealed.

In 2008, HMRC received thousands of documents showing the offshore accounts and assets of rich British customers, originally stolen from HSBC’s Geneva office by a disgruntled IT worker named Hervé Falciani in 2007. After initially going unnoticed, it became the source of much controversy over HMRC’s competence and HSBC’s integrity around its tax practices.

In total, HMRC has raised around £142m from the cache, the Public Accounts Committee heard yesterday in its first hearing with the tax authority in the new parliament, leading to around 950 lines of enquiry and one conviction – that of property tycoon Michael Shanly, who was hit with an £800,000 bill for tax evasion.

“We’ve just about exhausted what we have from the data,” HMRC director-general for enforcement and compliance Jennie Granger told the committee. “There are no more prosecutions… the data is very old now – ten years old – and it was badly broken… it doesn’t meet the high standards required for evidence here in the UK. The cases we finished are finished.”

The committee – now led by Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch Meg Hillier (pictured) – also heard evidence on HMRC’s oft-criticised performance in answering calls and letters from taxpayers.

HMRC chief executive Lin Homer accepted the tax authority is not “hitting the targets we’d like to” in answering taxpayers’ calls, but added that she did not believe the “trend is worsening”.

However, the statistics make stark reading, with just 39% of calls now answered inside five minutes, and the latest figures showing the department’s performance worsened inside the first five months of 2015.

Five minute ‘aspiration’

Homer told the committee answering calls inside five minutes was an “aspiration” for HMRC, but “not the most compelling metric”.

Instead, she said making sure call handlers are well-trained and dealing with issues in one call was “slightly more important” than answering calls quickly.

She added the authority’s ‘customer’ service “can’t be fixed without greater use of technology”.

HMRC’s Aspire IT contract draws to a close in 2017, and Homer confirmed it would not be replaced with a “monolithic contract”, but instead several solutions would be employed.

“We don’t believe we should re-let a major monolithic contract to an overarching IT company,” she said.

“That’s what we’ve done for the last 20 years and while that’s given us good stability, but at quite a high cost in terms of price. It’s not the way most organisations do their IT now, so we decided we should end this [Aspire] contract in phased steps. So we’ll end the contract in chunks and re-decide what to do with it in chunks.”

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