A no brainer.

December 6, 2012

Anyone with a home worth over £1million now facing a visit from elite tax inspectors” Well, up to a point, Lord Copper!

Let’s have a look, shall we?

The announcement was of a further 100 staff for the “affluence unit”, the bit of HMRC that looks at the tax affairs of people with more than a million quid. As the Telegraph article says

The unit, comprising 200 investigators and technical specialists in six locations across the UK, focuses on people who are evading or avoiding tax.

And, looking for the official announcement that was the initial impetus for this non-story, I see that Danny Alexander announced the unit was expanding from 200 to 300 staff, and with a remit to look at people with £1 million rather than, as before, £2.5 million.

OK then.  So how many millionaires are there?  The Treasury press release estimates half a million but – going back to The Telegraph, where we started – that seems to be a pre-crash figure and their current estimate is 280,000.  I’m not saying I prefer the Telegraph’s figures to the Treasury’s, you understand!  But let’s be generous and take the lower figure.

So we have 300 HMRC staff looking into the tax affairs of 280,000 people.

280,000 divided by 300 is 933.333 according to my calculator.  So let’s round it down and say each of these HMRC staff deals with the tax affairs of 900 millionaires.  Yes, according to the Telegraph’s own figures each worker in the Affluent Unit will need to spread their investigative powers over 900 millionaires.  According to the Treasury’s, over perhaps twice that.  Where on earth will they find the time to go nosing around blameless individuals whose houses have just drifted up in value?  It’s scaremongering, forget about it.

What is more interesting is the announcement that HMRC will have more resources in the autumn statement.  It’s here, in line 32 of the policy decisions:

 £ million
 Head 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18
32 HMRC investment Spend -10 -80 -25 0 0 0

Ten million in the current year, eighty million next year, £25m in the final year of the coalition and then zilch.  Hmmm… David Gauke’s written ministerial statement on December 3rd clarified this a bit: the 100 staff for the affluent unit are in there, plus some warm words about transfer pricing and centres of excellence.  But the figures are a bit off:

 A further £77 million will be provided to HMRC in this spending review period to further expand its anti-avoidance and evasion activity focused on offshore evasion and avoidance by wealthy individuals and by multinationals.

Well, 10+80+25 = 115 in my book, so if HMRC are getting 115 million and using 77 million on anti-avoidance and evasion, what are they going to use the other  38 million on, do we think?  I’m sure it’s hidden in the small print somewhere but I haven’t come across it yet – anyone?  (maybe they’re upping the £42 they can spend on each business for RTI by another, erm, sixteen quid apiece?)

But look here, at the ARC union website.  Now, ARC stands for Association of Revenue and Customs senior staff and it’s the branch of the FDA which covers senior staff in HMRC, tax inspectors, lawyers, senior managers and a bunch of other professions, economists and the like.  And they have a paper, Reducing the UK Tax Gap – Proposals from ARC. (which isn’t exactly prominent on the site, but if you look at the entry for December 3rd you’ll find it in the “notes for editors” from a press release they apparently put out on 30th November, presumably by leaving it in the statutory locked filing cabinet in the basement office marked “beware of the leopard”!)

What interests me is the suggestion that you could put resources into HMRC’s legal services:

Additional legal resources, 150 trained lawyers and 50 legal assistants, to accelerate litigation of the Tribunal backlog and accelerate yield. Cost £35m. Projected yield £2000m

One of the things that worries me about the extra hundred staff for the affluent unit is, where are they going to come from?  Because trained tax professionals don’t actually grow on trees, and HMRC has always been rubbish at planning for the future and making sure it has enough trained tax professionals coming online to replace natural wastage from retirements and resignations.  You can’t just go out and hire a hundred trained tax professionals – largely because the accountancy profession, where you might find people with at least analogous skills – pays a damned sight more than HMRC.

But you could go out and recruit a hundred and fifty lawyers tomorrow.  Because lawyers train themselves, or at least pay for their own training, and there are supply and demand issues in the legal profession which there aren’t in tax at the moment.  So you couldn’t find 150 trained tax lawyers – they get shedloads more than HMRC tax lawyers, I’m told.  But you could get 150 criminal lawyers, trained litigators, and start taking some of the backlog of tribunal cases to tribunal as fast as the tribunal could accommodate them.

ARC think an investment of £35m could bring in two thousand million.  And HMRC seem to have £38m left over, so it’s a no brainer, surely?  Why on earth not?

One comment

  1. […] which seems to me a no-brainer. […]

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