Tucked away in documents forming part of the 2013 Autumn Statement and this year’s Budget were plans to allow the sale of individual tax data, without revealing taxpayer identity, and release of the VAT register. Needless to say this has provoked great concern about the potential for taxpayer confidentiality to be compromised.
HMRC has already been testing the waters during a little known pilot programme whereby data concerning VAT registration has been released to three private credit ratings agencies – Experian, Equifax and Dun & Bradstreet. In order to legitimize this dubious arrangement the agencies have been contracted to act on behalf of the Revenue thereby providing them with access to information that would ordinarily be confidential.
According to The Guardian newspaper, HMRC are considering charging a fee for releasing anonymised tax data to third parties such as companies, researchers and public bodies where there is a public benefit.
The plans are being supervised by Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke and the government are seeking to reassure the public that suitable safeguards will be put into place to protect personal data. Given HMRC’s past record of losing personal information about 25 million child benefit claimants and 15,000 bank customers, this is unlikely to provide the public with much comfort.
A similar initiative, the Care.data scheme, which involves sharing “anonymised” medical records with third parties, has been suspended for 6 months following fears of potential individual identification from what was supposed to be anonymous data but which turned out to contain a whole raft of personal information such as postcodes, dates of birth, NHS numbers, ethnicity and gender.
Speaking to The Guardian, senior Tory MP David Davis, himself a former minister and shadow home secretary slammed the proposals as “borderline insane”, saying, “The Treasury lists no credible benefits ………The officials who drew this up clearly have no idea of the risks to data in an electronic age.”
The Chartered Institute of Taxation did not originally object to the proposals but its president, Stephen Coleclough, has since said, “We are concerned that even the strictest safeguards and deterrents may not prevent a misuse of the data or identification of the underlying taxpayer.”
It is not clear as to what data HMRC would be prepared to share and with whom but taxpayers should be very concerned that the department are even contemplating this as credible. It will only serve to deepen the mistrust that the tax paying public have for HMRC and give rise to fears that their Human Rights could be breached.