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Citizens are stakeholders. Discuss.

September 7, 2012

I have blogged before that I think there’s something fundamentally awry in the tax consultation process.  While it’s entirely laudable that the government wants to make tax changes in a considered way, taking account of the views of people who know about the subject, I think they need to look again at Tax Policy Making: A New Approach and be explicit with us.  There’s little or no debate on the Finance Bill any more, partly because all the supposed kinks in the wording have been worked out in the consultation process – but then that means there’s little or no input from MPs in their capacity as representatives of the Ordinary Citizen – or their capacity as stakeholders for Great Britain’s fiscal and economic health and welfare.  So is the point of the New Approach just to give those affected by a tax – the people who will pay it – a chance to say something about how it’s designed?  Or is it also intended to give those affected by the outcome of a tax – the people who pay their own taxes and who rely on the tax base to provide them with the common services the country uses tax receipts to provide, but who may not pay this particular tax?  Bluntly, are we trying to crowd-source (free of charge) the paid work that policy-making civil servants in the Treasury and HMRC used to do?  And are we doing so by asking the turkeys how to administer Christmas?

So I’m replying to all the tax consultations I can, even the ones where I’m not invited to do so – because I believe that the citizen is a stakeholder in all these matters.  And the other consultation which closed yesterday, the consultation on Life Insurance: Qualifying Policies said it only wanted to hear from “Insurance companies, Friendly Societies and Advisers involved in the sale or management of Qualifying Life Insurance Policies”.  Tough.

Here’s what I sent:

This is an individual’s response and will be posted, with commentary, on my blog, http://tiintax.com

You say that the people who should read the consultation are “Insurance companies, Friendly Societies and Advisers involved in the sale or management of Qualifying Life Insurance Policies”. I believe that the government’s intention in Tax Policy Making: A New Approach was to establish a methodology for making good tax policy which included consultation as its key element, and as a matter of principle I believe that all citizens are stakeholders in the design and operation of the tax system and therefore have a stakeholding in its development.

I have concentrated on the tax impact assessment as the best way of understanding the expected outcomes of the policy change and I see that the measure is expected to have a negligible impact on the exchequer and on the wider economy and I wonder therefore what the scale of the problem identified – of life insurance being used as a tax exempt savings vehicle – might be and whether it is cost effective to legislate. It seems very strange that, at this stage in the consultation process, you are not able to give a ball park figure of the kind of tax loss you are looking to stem and it is hard to see a justification for the enactment of legislation without this.

I also see that there is expected to be a “relatively small number” of individuals and households affected but no indication is given of how these investors fall on the spectrum of protected characteristics under the equality legislation. Is this a type of investment with a broad spread of investors where the closure of the opportunity to invest and gain higher rate tax relief will impact across the board or is it used primarily by any particular group? I am surprised you feel you have given due regard to equality issues without this information, particularly since the number of providers seems small enough that I would have expected there to be little difficulty in having or obtaining good quality information.

Nor am I at all clear what you think the impact will be on small firms. You admit there will be several providers who are small firms within the meaning of the government’s small firms impact test – have you held specific discussions with them on whether their customers are more or less likely to make use of the proposed limit? I’m not at all clear from the tax impact assessment therefore that the case for legislation is made.

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