Archive for the ‘Equality’ Category


Once more, with feeling

August 5, 2013

I wouldn’t usually blog twice in one day, but having sat down in front of the telly with twitter on my phone, I spotted a tweet from the Spartacus group reminding people that the consultation on the hard-won further consultation on the mobility element of the PIP closes tonight.

We have been here before, of course.  But I thought it worth sending another quick response.  You have just got time to do the same yourself: email before midnight if you can.  All you really need to say is no: it’s not reasonable to reduce the distance at which you get the kind of enhanced financial support that might enable you to get out and about from “being able to move 50 yards” to “being able to move 20 yards”.  Come on!

Here’s what I sent, although I’ve redacted some personal stuff about my own experiences of mobility issues.

My view is that it is unreasonable to set rigid limits, whether 20 or 50 metres, in deciding whether or not a person is entitled to the advanced rate of PIP.  In my experience disability is a fluctuating condition and fatigue is, in particular, difficult to quantify.  A person might reasonably be able to walk 30 metres one day and 10 another, for example.  They might be able to move about under some circumstances – early in the day, in familiar territory, with the use of aids – and yet unable to move the same distance under different circumstances – late in the day, in a strange place where there is additional stress, or under circumstances which include other stressors, for example.

I believe a more reasonable way of deciding whether a person should receive PIP at the lower or higher rate is to use a test analogous to that used in determining tax avoidance.  Under the General Anti Abuse Rule there is a “double reasonableness” test (see B12.1 middle bullet) Under this test, tax avoidance is not deemed to be “abusive” unless the double reasonableness test is met:

This requires HMRC to show that the arrangements “cannot reasonably be regarded as a reasonable course of action”.

This test could be adapted into the PIP regulations for existing holders of, and applicants for, the higher rate of PIP or analogous mobility allowance by specifying that the PIP will be paid at the higher rate in respect of mobility unless this “cannot reasonably be regarded as a reasonable course of action”.  In other words, rather than testing and (forgive me) harassing fellow citizens with disabilities as if they were trying to pull a fast one, you regarded them as having a legitimate need for the higher rate allowance unless it was reasonable to regard any other course of action as reasonable.

Kind regards


Spending review

June 26, 2013

I was watching the Spending Review this lunchtime.  Sad, yes, I know.  But none of the people in the House of Commons that I could see on the telly gave any evidence that they knew there was life beyond the Westminster bubble.  As I tweeted at the time,

The laughter and jeering on both sides of the House is offensive beyond belief. This is people’s lives you’re dickering with, posh boys.
While I was tweeting, did I really hear Osborne suggest that “some” public servants get 7% progression pay in a year?  I’d very much like to see evidence of that, and if it’s true I strongly suspect there’s an outlier being quoted as a norm there.
Let’s look at HMRC for a minute.  Here is what a tax inspector earns. Disclosure: I was on the G7 max for years… and years… and years.  Which is fair enough – I’d qualified, done a few years to get the rough edges off, and reached the rate for the job.  After that, if I wanted more, I had to get promoted (pause for hollow laughter) or get an “exceed” (performance pay) mark.  Oh, and the pay scale used to be bumped up every now and then to keep pace with inflation but that’s gone since the coalition took power – my former colleagues are still earning exactly the same as I was when I left… only now, of course, they’re taking home less, because they have to pay an extra “contribution” towards their pensions…
And no-one’s complaining about that.  It’s a good salary, and when you’re on the top of the scale you’re getting the rate for the job, and there are people worse off.  Yes, there might be a pay differential between the public servant and the accountant working for the other side, but it’s less than it used to be and there’s no-one hiring at present so there isn’t that immediate drain on the HMRC senior staff that there was when I finished my training.
But look at this, the age and grade profile of HMRC staff and you’ll see that there’s a big “bulge” of people in the G7 and G6 grades who are in their forties and fifties.  They might all have to work on till they’re 67 and 68, but I suspect a lot of them, like me, will scarper as soon as they get a halfway decent offer.  And look at the age profile of the people coming up behind them, the “fast streamers”, the bright kids they get in from university and train up to be the next generation of inspectors.
Ask yourself how they’re going to feel when they get promoted to G7 and sit there on the bottom of the scale?  There’s £8,921 between the top and bottom of the London G7 scales, £7,758 between the top and bottom of the National scale, and a whopping £14,607 between the bottom of one and the top of the other.  Yes, it happens, people in Sheffield do the same work as people in London.  So how would you feel about it?
I mean, I’m assuming the plan is to stop the music where everyone is standing right now and take away ALL of the chairs, not just one.  And then make everyone work extra hard to get that “performance pay” if they want more.  And devil take the hindmost, the person on fourteen grand less than the lucky sod doing the same job in a different place who got their foot on the ladder before the rungs were sawn off.
(Yes, all right, I’ll stop mixing my metaphors in a minute.  I get less articulate when I get cross, and I’m very cross at the moment, in case you hadn’t guessed.)
We were discussing equal pay for women in the Civil Service last week (there’s a summary of the discussion here).  I’m assuming that, since the point of the spending review was to spend less, that the government isn’t proposing to boost everyone UP to the rate for the job, thus removing the lingering equal pay issues, before imposing the ban on progression pay?
No, thought not.
Public sector unions are fools if they don’t set up a kickstarter for the legal expenses fighting fund and get the mechanism of an equal pay court case in motion.  Because austerity shouldn’t be at the expense of equality.

Closing the enquiry centres: part four

April 16, 2013

There’s a nice flowchart in chapter 5 (on page 10) of the consultation into what will replace the closed enquiry centres.  There are different coloured pathways, each ending in a smiley face and a comment like “resolved online”  or “resolved by HMRC contact centre”

My google-fu isn’t sufficient to reproduce it here but, please, go to the consultation and have a look at it.  See that big box in the middle, the one that nearly all the pathways lead through?  The one that says:

HMRC Contact Centre

Straightforward queries are solved on the spot by expert advisers in HMRC’s contact centres

Customers needing extra support are referred to the new HMRC specialist support team

Where does that leave the rest of us?  You know, those of us who ring the contact centre with queries that aren’t “straightforward”, but we aren’t deemed “needy” enough to qualify for the “extra support” of the new HMRC specialist support team?

The flow chart is silent.  There’s no arrow leading us out of this binary box.  Either our queries need to be “straightforward” enough that the contact centre can answer them, or we need to be “needy” enough to qualify for “extra” support.  There’s no third way, no provision for an ordinary taxpayer with an out of the ordinary problem.  We can bounce around inside the big box and never reach a smiley face at the end of the pathway.



Closing the enquiry centres: part three

April 12, 2013

Let’s delve a little further into the weasel words of the consultation into closing HMRC’s enquiry centres – or, rather, the consultation into what will be left when the enquiry centres close.

3.16 When an adviser decides that the customer’s query is best dealt with by a voluntary and community sector organisation, they will provide information to the customer to help them choose the organisation most suited to their needs

So… at the moment I could wander down to my local enquiry office and ask someone a question.  Most of the time I would be pointed to a phone hanging on the wall and told to phone the helpline, but at least if I found the helpline didn’t know the answer, or I couldn’t understand what they meant, then I could make an appointment to speak to someone about it, probably with a few days wait time.  Under the new proposals I wouldn’t have that facility at all.  The choice of a face to face meeting is taken from the taxpayer and given to the Department.  Am I “needy” enough?  Would I be identified by an HMRC advisor as having sufficient “need” to warrant being given anything but the same answer over and over?

All of us who have tried to find something out on a website and got “stuck” will know how frustrating it is to be directed back to the same site, the same words.  When you don’t understand the words, or they don’t quite answer your question or fit your circumstances, and all you want is the reassurance of talking to a human being (“So if I put just ignore the pennies and put the pounds in the box that’s all right, is it?  Or do I have to round it to the nearest pound?”) well, tough.

Am I exaggerating?

And what about the idea that HMRC will simply tell some people to bog off and talk to someone else?  Or, to put it another way, “3.16 When an adviser decides that the customer’s query is best dealt with by a voluntary and community sector organisation, they will provide information to the customer to help them choose the organisation most suited to their needs”

Does this not mean, then, that some cases HMRC will decide the customer is too “needy’ or difficult, or their affairs are too complicated, or it’s simply not “cost effective” to help them, and will instead shuffle them off to a “voluntary and community sector organisation”.

Where are these organisations to come from?  Where are their volunteers, their funding, their training and experience, to take on the work that a government department has decided it hasn’t got the funds to provide for its citizens?

Am I the only person appalled by this?

For shame, HMRC.  We are citizens, not customers; we have rights and responsibilities.  And a government department doesn’t get to decide whether we’re “needy”.  And it definitely doesn’t get to decide whether we’re needy enough.


Consultation on vulnerable beneficiary trusts

November 9, 2012

Trying to catch up with the flurry of October/November consultations, I see I missed one that closed yesterday.  I’m hoping that, closing on Thursday, they’ll still be able to consider responses that they receive on, erm, Friday!  Anyway, this is what I sent.  I’m not sure whether there’s anything in the changes to tax treatment of trusts for people who are unable to manage their own financial affairs that is, by and of itself, offensive – I’m aware that it’s the changes to the benefits themselves (replacing DLA with PIP) which are considered offensive by people with disabilities.  But there are two things that jump out at me about this consultation.  One is the governmental, or rather departmental, muddle.  If you have different definitions of disability or vulnerability in different departments and for different purposes, should you – in the twenty first century, for goodness’ sake – expect a government to be able to get its act together and define what it means for ALL its purposes, not just for some?  Or, if that gives too much of a cliff edge between categories, shouldn’t you at least let the tax treatment follow the definitions used for other purposes rather than making people faff about considering a whole new set of tax requirements for something that isn’t really anything to do with tax at all?  And, second… the consideration of equality seems to be rubbish.  I say “seems to be” because, to be charitable, it’s possible they’ve done a ton of great work behind the scenes but just written it up really badly.  But to me it  reads as if they’ve gone “Oh, the DWP did all that.  Just stick in an “it’s all right, isn’t it?” question and leave it at that.”  Tell me I’m wrong.

Anyway, this is the response I sent.

I appreciate that the closing date for this consultation was in fact yesterday but I hope you will nevertheless be able to include it in your considerations. This is an individual’s response and will also be published, with commentary, on my blog at Please note there are some questions where either I consider I do not have sufficient expertise to contribute to the discussion or else I have covered the question separately in narrative and I have therefore excluded those questions (so the numbering below doesn’t follow, but IS the numbering taken from your consultation document)

Q2: Do respondents have suggestions for defining a ‘vulnerable person’ for tax purposes other than by reference to orphaned minors and those with a severe physical or mental disability? (Responses may include approaches and concepts found elsewhere that could be included into the tax code either in combination or in isolation.)

It seems quite plain to me that tax is the least of the matters which a vulnerable person ought to be concerned with, and that therefore the best way of implementing the objective of this consultation is for the tax treatment to “follow” – in other words, that the legislation defining people to whom these tax exemptions should apply should follow the other defining legislation.

In other words, government should get its act together and define vulnerability for all purposes, or at least work under the presumption that meeting a definition for one purpose would also meet it for all other government (or at the very least for tax!) purposes.

In drafting terms, you might say something like “A vulnerable person for these purposes is someone in the Vulnerable Persons list,” and then have a separate command paper or other statutory instrument kept up to date with the definitions found elsewhere in the law. So the first “vulnerable persons list” might read
– persons in receipt of enhanced rate PIP
– persons [defined as in the enhanced criminal record certificates legislation]
– persons listed in the [relevant provisions of the] Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006

Q3: In relation to those suggestions, what practical issues do respondents envisage applying them in the context of a self-assessed tax; and how could they be overcome?

In practical terms, there are three things government should do

1. not require self assessment from a vulnerable person but from their trustees
2. not require self assessment from the trustees of a vulnerable person except at (say) five yearly intervals or when there is a material change in circumstances, and
3. set up and resource fully an assistance unit within HMRC devoted to providing vulnerable persons and their trustees with direct assistance in self assessment, including but not limited to a dedicated mailing address and the provision of the telephone number, email address and other contact details of a named person in HMRC who will provide them with assistance

Q4: Do respondents agree that including recipients of the enhanced rate daily living component of PIP within the vulnerable person definition would achieve certainty in the same way the existing reference to DLA does?

Yes, but would restrict the number of people included in the vulnerable persons group as that is one of the design objectives of moving to PIP. This should NOT be one of the design objectives of this legislation, so the definition needs to be broader, and therefore to “follow” other definitions of vulnerability.

Q6: What are respondents’ views on whether the proposal for PIP might lead to a suitable test, or part of a test, for assessing whether someone should be able to benefit from access to the tax treatment for vulnerable persons’ trusts? (Responses should have regard to the characteristics that distinguish a vulnerable person.)

PIP is intended to apply to fewer people than the current benefits regime and therefore the definition of a vulnerable person would be unreasonably restricted if this were the ONLY qualification for treatment as a vulnerable person. See response to 2, above – in my view the definition should follow any other definition in current legislation, so that a person defined as “vulnerable” for ANY government purpose should also be defined as vulnerable for tax purposes.

Q7: Is the existing ‘mental incapacity’ test suitably targeted? If not, why not?

No opinion, but didn’t you consult on this very recently, in the consultation on removing the offensive language (“lunatic”) from the Taxes Acts? Is it necessary to revisit at this point, and if so I strongly suggest you re-examine the responses to the previous consultation.

Q8: What alternative approach would respondents propose and why? (Responses need not be limited to suggestions that make use of MCA05.)

See above. Follow the definitions in other legislation so that there is no separate “hurdle” for tax.

Q10: Do respondents see any reason why the ‘application of capital’ conditions should not require the vulnerable beneficiary to benefit from every application of the capital during the lifetime (or other relevant period) of the vulnerable beneficiary (with consequent changes to the provisions disregarding trustees’ general statutory powers of advancement)?

As a lay person, I’m surprised this question needs to be asked. But, for the avoidance of doubt, no!

Q11: Do respondents see any reason why the ‘application of income’ conditions should not be harmonised so that trustees are prevented from paying income to non-vulnerable beneficiaries during the lifetime (or relevant period) of the vulnerable beneficiary?

As for Q10!

Further comments

I am surprised that the consultation has reached this stage – where you are publishing draft legislation – without the equality impact assessment being at a more developed stage. The statutory requirement is for departments to give “due regard” to equality while making changes and the phrasing of the EQIA suggests work to examine the potential equality impacts has not yet been conducted. Presumably this is merely unfortunate phrasing of the consultation and you have already given regard to equality in putting forward these proposals for consultation? In particular I am aware from the press that there is considerable controversy over the changes to benefits which have led to these proposals – surely in order to give due regard to equality YOU would need to consider the equality impact of THESE changes and not merely rely on the EQIA published by DWP and referenced at 8.8?

Tax Impact Assessment. Again, the equality impact assessment seems nugatory, no consideration is given to any HMRC changes (such as the possibility of providing more or better assistance to affected persons and trusts in dealing with self assessment) and the consideration for monitoring and evaluation does not seem to allow for the possibility of effective *review* of any changes to see whether they are effective.



Wouldn’t it be nice…

September 14, 2012

…if we treated our paralympians and other fellow citizens with disabilities or terminal illnesses the way we treat our tax avoiders?  I’ve just written a long post, below, in response to a consultation about the General Anti-Avoidance Rule Notion.  I just wanted to pick out one small aspect of that suggestion, the proposed definition of abuse.

Tax arrangements are “abusive” if they are arrangements the entering into or carrying out of which cannot reasonably be regarded as a reasonable course of action, having regard to all the circumstances…

This is called the double reasonableness concept: it’s not enough that the action is reasonable, it also has to be reasonable to regard it as reasonable.

Wouldn’t that be a great way of re-testing disabled people to make sure they’re still entitled to disability benefits?  Say something like

Disability assessments are “abusive” if they lead to an action such as the removal of benefits which cannot reasonably regarded as a reasonable course of action, having regard to all the circumstances…

Just a thought.  (but the consultation on the tax GARN closes today.  You’ve still got time to drop them a line at suggesting they pass on their double reasonableness test to the DWP…)


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,

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.


Equal to what?

August 23, 2012

The measure is not anticipated to impact on groups with protected characteristics any more than on those without such characteristics.” (Tax Impact Assessment, bottom section of page 29)


Let’s unpack that a little, shall we?

The Treasury and HMRC are covered by the Public Sector duty of the 2010 Equality Act.  So they’re required to give due regard to equality issues while they’re making policy, for example (as the Government Equalities Office guidance says)

Having due regard means consciously thinking about the three aims of the Equality Duty as part of the process of decision-making.

So here we are, thinking consciously about the equality duty as part of our decision making, and we’ve decided what we’re proposing doesn’t impact on groups with protected characteristics any more than it does on people without such characteristics, right?


What protected characteristics are we talking about, then?

Well the Equalities Office has helpfully listed them for us here:

The protected characteristics covered by the Equality Duty are:

• age

• disability

• gender reassignment

• marriage and civil partnership (but only in respect of eliminating unlawful discrimination)

• pregnancy and maternity

• race – this includes ethnic or national origins, colour or nationality

• religion or belief – this includes lack of belief

• sex

• sexual orientation

So “being a man” would be a protected characteristic, for example, and you would, if you had that protected characteristic, be protected from being treated less favourably than someone with a different protected characteristic such as, oh, say, “being a woman.”

Similarly “being aged 26” is a protected characteristic and you are protected at 26 from being treated less favourably than someone with a different protected characteristic such as, say, “being aged 96”.

Similarly, “being from Yorkshire” is as protected a characteristic as “being from New York”.

So tell me, please, how we have given due regard to equality by deciding that this measure won’t affect people with protected characteristics any more than it will affect people without protected characteristics?  Show me a person without a protected characteristic.  Who has no age, sex or national origin?

It’s logical rubbish, and shows contempt for the whole process.  Shame on you!