TaxPersonal TaxKeeping it confidential at the Revenue

Keeping it confidential at the Revenue

In the past one of the mainstays of our tax system has been the concept of confidentiality. If people are to be open and honest with the Revenue they need to feel that the information that they give for tax purposes will be used only for that purpose.

The concept was so important that it is a criminal offence for a Revenue officer to breach his duty of confidentiality. Are there circumstances in which this duty ought to be breached or should it be absolute? It is currently not absolute. There are various statutory provisions that allow the Revenue to pass on information. Double tax agreements normally have a mutual exchange of information provision. The Revenue has power to pass information to Customs and to themselves wearing their NIC hat. It seems to me reasonable to assume that information provided for one tax purpose might be used for another.

But what about beyond tax? Well the government seems to have pretty firm ideas about that – if we have got information why not use it in any way we want? However this issue is too important to be left to the politicians. What is your view? There’s no need to tell me, but why not make it known to your MP?

Did you know that the Revenue has apparently been given power to pass information to the Child Support Agency? I didn’t. I suspect it was slipped into CSA legislation to hide it from the tax world.

The recent Criminal Justice & Police Bill contained provisions to allow the Revenue to pass information to the police or to any overseas equivalent where it is ‘alleged’ or ‘suspected’ that a crime has been committed. This provision was dropped because of the General Election but expect it to be reintroduced soon.

The provision was not even debated in the House of Commons and in the very brief debate in the Lords the Conservatives said that they agreed with the principle but would go about it differently.

Personally where there is already evidence of an offence I would have no difficulty with the UK police being able to ask someone very senior in the Revenue to help fill in one or two gaps in the evidence. But I am strongly against my local tax officer being able to volunteer information to anyone because they ‘allege’ or ‘suspect’ (with no evidence) that I have committed a criminal offence.

  • Robert Maas is a partner at Blackstone Franks.

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