Archive for the ‘HMT’ Category

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State of play

September 16, 2015

So there are fourteen open consultations listed as relating to HMRC on the gov.uk website today.  If you filter instead for the “tax and revenue” policy area (all departments) the total comes up as 18 – four from the Treasury.  Query: why are some tax consultations badged from the Treasury and some from HMRC?  Answers on a postcard…

The first is a review of travel and subsistence rules.  It was published under the coalition government, in July 2014, but says that it closes at quarter to midnight on 1st May 2016.  I find this rather improbable, and I wish gov.uk would have a look at it.

You have until 30th September to respond on the taxation of performance linked rewards paid to asset managers, employment intermediaries and tax relief for travel and subsistence, ISA qualifying investments and crowd funding, and the IR35 discussion document

You need to get motoring to respond to the implementation of the Personal Savings Allowance and the deduction of income tax from interest in peer to peer lending which both close on 18th September.  The other handful all have closing dates in October.

But I could have read and perhaps responded to one of them in the time I’ve taken today trying to identify which one to prioritise.  Because apparently listing consultations with a visible closure date and/or in the order in which they close remains beyond the wit of a twenty first century government.  Or, as I said on Facebook yesterday, you’d almost imagine they didn’t want responses from Jo Public.

 

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Accessibility?

July 27, 2015

Don’t mind me; I seem to have reached the Grumpy Old Git stage of my convalescence.  This morning, for example, I thought I would read the Tax Assurance Commissioner’s new Annual Report – I know, I know, but there’s only so many episodes of Bargain Hunt and Time Team you can watch before your brain melts and dribbles out of your ears altogether.

Here it is: on gov.uk of course, on a page of “collections”, where the 2012-13, 2013-14 reports are collected along with the new one, for 2014-15.

Click on any of them, however, and you get the message that “This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology”.  Now, wait a minute, wasn’t the government’s own website supposed to meet the government’s own standard for accessibility?  Why is the report a PDF document (which is a bugger to get to a reasonable size for comfortable reading) rather than HTML, which – as the government’s own Service Design Manual points out – is a more accessible option:

For written reports, the native format of the web (HTML) should be your default option. PDF can be an excellent display format, but without additional effort it can be inappropriate for users of screenreading software.

A pdf document should only be used where there is “no other option“:

HTML is quicker, easier and more widely usable/accessible than PDF, but where no other option is possible this PDF guidance should be followed.

I’m lucky enough not to require use of specialist software to read this document: I’m just pissed off that the text shows up on my laptop in a font too small for me to read comfortably without a lot of fiddling about, and that it took me a good ten minutes to find the control to increase the magnification.

But I wonder why there are so many HMRC and HMT documents which pop up as PDFs instead of HTLM.  Is there really “no other option”, or is there a default to seeking an easier life and not worrying about it till someone makes a fuss?

Answers on a postcard…

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A new day

May 7, 2015

Well, election day, actually.  I’ve been and voted, and now I’m ready for a marathon night watching the results.  I know, I know, I’m sad like that; and, of course, I’m semi-retired so I don’t have to be anywhere tomorrow so I can sleep in as long as I like.

You would think, in the hiatus between governments, that all would be quiet on the consultation front.  I logged on to gov.uk out of sheer curiosity, thinking it would be interesting to see the consultation page with the counter set to zero.

But no!  There are, in fact, some 62 open consultations listed.  I don’t know about you, but I feel that 62 new laws and regulations would be a reasonable score for an entire parliamentary term, not the number of residual bits of leftover legislation not important enough to wait for the end of purdah.  Can we just STOP making new law and try administering the ones we’ve got for a bit?

Sigh.

Of the 62 open consultations I have no objection to odds and ends of measures like Natural England consulting on restricting access to, for example, Widdybank Fell (which looks very nice, by the way).  The world would still continue turning even if we didn’t have a government, (Belgium managed OK for 541 and then 135 days, after all) and so I suppose there’s no reason to stop the process of consulting.  But I could have lived without seeing a serious consultation into reform of the Government Ombudsman service, a paper on what I suspect is the first salvo in the war of the next BBC licence fee and a call for evidence on creating a secondary market in our bloody pensions sliding quietly out while all our backs are turned to the polling station.

Anyway.

HMRC has five open consultations:

and the Treasury has eight, two of them also on the HMRC list, five which (from a quick look, anyway) aren’t connected with tax, and one which may be of interest: Travel and subsistence review.  But which closes on 1 May 2016 at 11:45pm.

2016? Seriously?  I suspect it should read 2015 and it’s an already closed consultation.

It’s the twenty first century.  Keeping and maintaining an up to date list like this shouldn’t be this hard, surely?

Dear New Government: please get someone to make gov.uk work.  Thanks.

 

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Tiresomeness

February 19, 2015

You know what?  There’s too much legislation.  Not just tax legislation, all legislation.  No-one has time to read it all, yet we are all presumed to know and understand it, because ignorance of the law is no defence.  And if you have been watching the programme about what goes on Inside the Commons you will have seen why.  Who has the time, in amongst the running down corridors to be shepherded into the right lobby to vote and camping out in empty offices to get to the front of the queue for a Private Member’s Bill slot (have these people never heard of computers?)

Parliamentary scrutiny is supposed to be the way that Bills are turned into Acts of Parliament – a series of formal debates take place with select committee scrutiny in between and so anything that comes out of the process has been scrutinised by our elected representatives and that’s democracy, right?

Yeah, right.

Parliament isn’t fit for purpose, or at least not for THAT purpose.  The House of Commons is a generator of heat, not light.  Even the way the building is designed confirms it, with two sides sitting opposite each other at a distance calculated to prevent them *sticking each other with swords*.

Which is why the process is vital.  By the time the Bill gets to the floor of the House, all the democratic scrutiny should already have been facilitated.  If it is a regulation, then there should be an impact assessment to show what the proposed change will cost and why the particular option has been chosen.  There should have been a public consultation where all the unintended consequences were bottomed out.  There should be an explanatory memorandum showing what the regulation is intended to achieve and assuring Parliament that all the necessary processes have been followed (there’s a good explanation of what ought to be in the EM at paragraphs 18 onwards here, in the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s guidance:

The purpose of the EM is to provide members of Parliament with a plain English, free-standing, explanation of the effects of the instrument and why it is necessary)

So consultation is important.  Oliver Letwin told the Legislation Scrutiny Committee that debates in parliament were the bedrock of democracy (so it didn’t really matter if he cut the time allowed for consultation, because consultation wasn’t the place to gather public “views”)  But I disagree.  I think democracy is, perhaps not quite broken, but a bit battered and bent round the edges, and that a consultation process before changes get as far as the Commons is a good sticking plaster.

Which is why it pisses me off that, three years after I suggested it to the Legislation Scrutiny Committee and they made it one of their recommendations, you still can’t get a list of consultations ordered in the date they will close.

I mean, it’s not rocket science, is it?

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Midnight at 100PS

September 8, 2014

Imagine the scene: it’s eleven thirty pm and the clock is ticking down towards midnight at 100 Parliament Street.  A crack team of HMRC and HMT civil servants are clustered around a single computer terminal, the sickly light the only source of illumination in the vast emptiness of their cavernous shared workspace (where, in daylight, a hundred drones compete for every 65 chairs).  Someone seated at the terminal constantly hits the “refresh” button, while another holds a stopwatch, and their colleagues’ gazes flick nervously between the two.  At 11.42 they start to make eye contact with each other, the light of hope dawning in their eyes.  At 11.43 there are some fingers crossed.  At 11.44 someone begins a lugubrious countdown and gradually the rest of them join in: ten… nine… eight… seven… six… Five!  Four!   THREE!   TWO!!  ONE!!!  11.45 pm everyone!  The Consultation into the New Employee shareholding vehicle is now CLOSED!

Champagne is opened.  Someone hits refresh for one last time and the whole crowd erupts: LOOK AT THAT! THIS LOSER SENT IN HIS RESPONSE AT 11.47 BWA HA HA HA HA…

Well of course it’s nonsense!  What happens in real life is you set the date for your consultation to close, you hear nothing much till the actual day, and then they all tumble in at once, some before midnight, some after, and you pick them up when you come in the next morning.  And, yes, including the ones sent hopefully at 4.30am and, if you’re feeling generous, the ones that came in half an hour after you did but before you’d finished reading the rest of them.

Nothing hangs on a consultation deadline, not to the degree of precision that requires a countdown anyway.  You need the responses to be sent so that you have time to read them and consider what’s said before you have to commit to any further action.  You might have Parliamentary and other deadlines to meet, but you know your consultation guidelines and you allow as much time as you can to give the participants giving you valuable feedback some reasonable chance of considering your proposals at leisure.  What you don’t – ever, in my experience – do, is to cut off people whose response is signed off five minutes late.

So why the devil has gov.uk started giving deadlines with actual time limits – 5pm, 11.45 pm, 12.00am – on the open consultations?  What will actually happen if I send in my response to the consultation into legislating ESC D33 at 3.31pm rather than at 3.29?  As our younger netizens say, WTF, gov.uk?

Here’s the list:

9 September 2014 5.00pm VAT: Prompt Payment Discounts

9 September 2014 11.45pm Employee benefits and expenses: exemption for paid or reimbursed expenses

9 September 2014 11.45pm Employee benefits and expenses: abolition of the £8,500 threshold for lower paid employment and form P9D

9 September 2014 11.45pm Employee benefits and expenses: real time collection of tax on benefits in kind and expenses through voluntary payrolling

9 September 2014 11.45pm Employee benefits and expenses: trivial benefits exemption

12 September 2014 11.45pm Stamp Duty Land Tax rules for property investment funds

15 September 2014 3.30pm Legislating Extra Statutory Concession D33

16 September 2014 5.00pm Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings: reducing the administrative burden for business

19 September 2014 5.00pm Landfill tax – liability of waste ‘fines’

19 September 2014 5.00pm VAT relief on substantially and permanently adapted motor vehicles for disabled wheelchair users

19 September 2014 5.00pm Sharing and publishing export data for public benefit

22 September 2014 5.00pm Improving the operation of the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS)

10 October 2014 5.00pm Office of Tax Simplification review of unapproved share schemes: marketable security

10 October 2014 11.45pm New Employee shareholding vehicle

15 October 2014 12.00am Inheritance Tax: exemption for emergency service personnel

16 October 2014 5.00pm Internationally mobile employees and earnings related securities

22 October 2014 9.30am implementing agreements under the global standard on automatic exchange of information

23 October 9.30am Strengthening the Tax Avoidance Disclosure Regimes

31 October 2014 5pm Tackling offshore tax evasion: Strengthening civil deterrents

31 October 2014 5pm Tackling offshore tax evasion: A new criminal offence

Hmmm… looks like a busy day tomorrow.

 

[Note: edited 9th September to reflect the fact there are four consultations closing at 11.45pm tonight and not 3: I had misread the Trivial Benefits closure date as 19th and not 9th.  Sorry!]

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Rejoice! Only a fifth of government legislation is nonsense! (last year it was a quarter)

August 27, 2014

Great news today from the Regulatory Policy Committee, the independent scrutineers of Impact Assessments.  There has been an improvement in the number of Impact Assessments marked as “fit for purpose”, from 75-77% to 80%.

Yes, that’s right.  Instead of a quarter of the government’s legislation having an evidence base which is not fit for purpose, it’s now only one in five – rejoice!

Let’s take a step back and look at what this means, shall we?  First of all, what is an Impact Assessment?  It’s a document that sets out the reasoning behind the government making a piece of legislation, particularly what the costs and benefits will be, and whether there are any other impacts on, for example, equality, small businesses, carbon emissions and, coming soon (if we are to believe David Cameron)  impacts on families.  They are supposedly a key part of policy development, making sure that the only legislation which sees the light of day is based on robust evidence.  I say “supposedly” because in my experience they are also on occasions produced at the last minute, between the policy being finalised and the announcement seeing the light of day, solely to justify the actions being taken rather than as part of a judicious consideration of alternatives.  At their heart, though, Impact Assessments should show you that there’s a good reason for the government to take the action that it’s taking.

So why would a panel of independent experts find that the ones you were publishing were “not fit for purpose”?  Well, let’s look at a few examples, shall we?  How about the BIS attempt to change the Trades Unions’ register of members regulations, where they managed not to know what they were requiring unions to do, not to give a long enough consultation for the unions to talk to them about it, and not to work out how much it would all cost to implement.  No?

Well then, how about the Cabinet Office trying to consult on the proposal to introduce a register of lobbyists, where they managed to forget to explain why they were proposing the change in the first place, what options were available, whether there were any benefits from what they were proposing, oh, and to base their costs on a register of dental professionals that the RPC thought was “unclear how relevant”!

I’m sorry, but as a former Impact Assessment professional you have to allow me my moment of schadenfreude here.  There is a serious point, however, which is that by the time an Impact Assessment goes to the RPC for its opinion, the responsible Minister will have physically signed the form (Jo Swinson in the case of the TU register) if it’s a final IA, or will have approved the documents for issue if it’s a consultation (Oliver Letwin and Mark Harper for the Lobbyists consultation) so the IA is the place where “the rubber meets the road” – the place where the responsible Minister has to rely on his Civil Service to give him the facts.  You don’t expect him or her personally to investigate whether the numbers should be 42 or 43, but you do expect them to be able to be confident that when they sign a piece of paper saying it’s 42 they’re damned certain there’s an infrastructure in place that gives them assurance they’ve got the right figures in their hands.

It’s embarrassing to the Minister, then, to be found wanting by the RPC.  It’s embarrassing to the government to have its expertise found wanting by a panel it appointed to give it independent scrutiny.

And then sometimes they go ahead and just plain do it anyway.

 a red-rated ‘not-fit-for-purpose’ opinion does not mean the policy is flawed, but that the evidence as presented in the impact assessment is lacking. Decisions on whether to proceed with regulatory proposals following the publication of an RPC opinion are for ministers to take. 

So that’s all right, then.  The impact assessment shows you the rationale and evidence for a piece of regulatory legislation.  Around a fifth of them aren’t fit for purpose.  But then the government can go ahead and do what it likes anyway, regardless of whether there’s any evidence underpinning what it wants to do.

But what of tax changes, I hear you ask?

Hmmm… well, for tax changes the impact assessment is contained in the TIIN, the Tax Information and Impact Note.  How do I know?  Because David Gauke told Parliament it was, so by definition it must be true. But, oddly enough, the New Approach to Tax Policy Making somehow forgot to include external scrutiny of the evidence base for tax changes, so the TIINs don’t go to the RPC.  I’m a lot keener on the idea that they should now that I no longer work on them, of course.  Practical experience tells me it’s enough of a nightmare to get the book of TIINs out of the door in time for the Budget and the autumn statement, let alone having to wrangle them past an external scrutiny panel first.

It would be difficult to do, and inconvenient for the civil servants who have to do it, and expensive for the government (because they’d need shed-loads more people on the RPC and so they’d need to resource them better, not to mention they’d need a big spike in analyst resource to get the TIINs produced in time to get them to the RPC in time to get the Budget out of the door on time so they’d probably have to buy in some resource there, too…)  But those are project management problems, not issues of principle.

It would be difficult in terms of Budget secrecy, too – increase the number of people who know about a package of measures by the number of people needed to give them independent scrutiny and you of course increase the number of opportunities for things to go astray.  Again, though, a practical rather than a principle issue.

Is there a principle behind the lofty insistence that tax is different and special?

No, I don’t have an answer: it’s a genuine question.  Is there?

 

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In which HMRC raises my blood pressure. Again.

May 23, 2014

OK there’s a new HMRC consultation published today, which brings the total of open consultations listed on the gov.uk website to a grand total of, er, three.  Seriously, are they not going to do ANY consultation on the budget proposals this year?

They are:

Implementing a capital gains tax charge on non-residents (closes 21 June)

Direct recovery of debts, also known as the “HMRC will be able to take money direct from your bank account shock horror” provision (closes 29 July) and, the new one,

Tax-Free Childcare: consultation on childcare account provision (closes 27 June)

Wait a minute – published today?  Closes 27 June???  They’re giving us a whole 35 days to respond???

Actually that’s only 24 working days

Oh, and (hidden on the last page of the consultation document)

6.3 Responses should be accompanied by a cover sheet, which is available at this address: http://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/tax-free-childcare-consultation-on-childcare-account-provision.

Yes, this is a second consultation and there has already been one consultation already.  But is that REALLY any excuse for putting out a consultation with four weeks to respond, AND a new hurdle to jump of obtaining and completing a for goodness’sake Treasury approved cover sheet before you can even send in a response?

Seriously?

I mean, seriously?

Why not just print “eff off, peasants” on the front page and make it really clear you’re not interested in our <insert patrician disdain> views?

Oh, and here’s what the “cover sheet” looks like.  They don’t, of course, call it a “cover sheet” on the web address they send you to, but a “response form”.  It’s nevertheless clear they mean you to fill it in or else.  I’m so cross I’ve actually got a headache and I’m going for a bit of a lie down now.  If my brain explodes over the weekend, please sue HMRC on my behalf.

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