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Equality again

January 16, 2017

Well this is interesting. Cat Smith, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities,  asked in a written parliamentary question on 13th January

when the Government plans to publish the equality impact analysis of the Autumn Statement 2016 to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty.

David Gauke’s reply said amongst other things that

 There is no statutory requirement to prepare this information in a particular form or to publish Equality Impact Assessments.

Now, there is no requirement to assess and publish the impact of the Budget or the Autumn Statement as a whole, a giant loophole in equality legislation that was opened up or at least exposed by the Fawcett case (when the Fawcett society brought a judicial review of the 2010 “emergency” Budget).  Nor is there a requirement to prepare a separate document called an Equality Impact Assessment.

However the outcome of the Fawcett case was – I always understood – an undertaking from the Treasury that they and HMRC would assess the impact of individual measures in a better, more systematic way.  And – I always understood – this was reflected in the design of the TIIN, which includes a specific field for the result of the work done on assessing the impact on equalities.  If you refer back to May 2012 where I published the TIIN instructions you will see they included this passage:

Equalities Impacts

This test concerns people with protected characteristics. All policies must be signed off as compliant with this statutory test. At each stage of policy development you must comment on what work you have done to see whether you have given due regard to any impact on people with these characteristics and say so explicitly if you think it has none. You must keep an audit trail of your consideration, and retain this written record in the policy area so that the Department can show it is fully compliant with the law, now and in the future.

The policy is likely to impact on Equality and therefore required to complete a separate equality assessment if you answer yes to any of the following five questions:

Will the policy or its implementation have a particular impact onindividuals with one or more of the equality groups below?

Are particular communities or groups likely to have different needs,experiences and/or attitudes in relation to the policy or itsimplementation?

Are there any aspects of the policy or the way that it is implemented that could contribute to inequality?

Could this policy or its implementation have a positive impact on equality groups?

Could the aims of the policy be in conflict with equal opportunity,elimination of discrimination, promotion of good relations?

There are 10 protected characteristics that you need to consider:

Racial Group, Gender, Transsexual/ Transgender, Disability, Carers, Age, Sexual Orientation, Religion or Belief, Marital Status/ Civil Partnership, Political Opinion (NI only).

It is important that you look at the Departmental guidance and liaise with [Personal data redacted under Section 40 of the FOI Act 2000] in ICD when considering Equalities impacts as they now ‘own’ this part of the process.

And this is what it says in the current TIIN instructions, which I published last week:

Equalities impacts

This box needs to show we have had “due regard” for equality to comply with section 149 Equality Act 2010 (and similar Northern Ireland legislation). So it is not enough to say that the measure does not discriminate. A mistake that is often made is to say that there is no equality impact when there is: just about any change to personal tax for example will have an equality impact, because it will tend to affect some groups differently to others. A lot of business tax changes do too.

If the measure affects people this box should be used to say what we know about who those people are (men/women, young/old etc). The Customer Equality team in Central Customer Directorate (CCD) can advise.

Has there been a substantive change?  The Minister asserts there is no statutory requirement to publish the equality impact in ‘any particular form’.  Well, no: there isn’t a statutory requirement.  But there is a reasonable expectation, surely? Equalities impact was and remains a fundamental part of the TIIN process, and a TIIN is published with all tax changes.  Amusing as it may be for politicians to play the great game of answering parliamentary questions with as little information as possible, might it not have been more helpful to have said that?

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TIIN instructions

January 13, 2017

I have now received a response from HMRC to my Freedom of Information Act (FoI) request for the current TIIN instructions: there are some embedded in the TIIN template here:

170104_tiin_template

and some further guidance here:

170104_wendy-bradley_tiin-guidance

I am obliged to the HMRC FoI team for sorting this out, although of course it is evident from looking at the files that there are further instructions in the TIA (Tax Impact Assessment) guidance which has not  been included.  Nor is there any explanation of why this information isn’t part of the routine publication schedule – there really isn’t anything secret about it, and it’s useful data for those of us who take an academic interest in the way tax legislation is developed and produced, as well as for legal, accountancy and trade organisations who routinely give comments on tax proposals.  How about it, HMRC?

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Open consultations

January 12, 2017

Oh look, there are still seven open consultations on gov.uk relating to the policy area “tax and revenue”.  Of course, it’s a slightly different list of seven from the last time I looked…

(Employment Allowance: restricting the allowance from employers of ‘illegal workers’ closed on 3 January

Withdrawal of extra statutory concessions – technical note and call for evidence opened on 10th January and runs till 7th March)

However as yet there is no sign of the promised responses to the seven consultations on the “making tax digital” proposals. And weren’t we supposed to be able to try out the free software in “autumn 2016′?  Er, hello?

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Inner Peace?

January 11, 2017

I don’t want to do my tax return.

I don’t want to do my tax return, because it’s boring, and difficult.

I don’t want to do my tax return, because it’s boring, and difficult, and it’s important you don’t get it wrong.

I don’t want to do my tax return, because it’s boring, and difficult, and important you don’t get it wrong, and it won’t make a blind bit of difference because I don’t owe them any money (or vice versa) anyway.

I don’t want to do my tax return because it’s boring and difficult and important you don’t get it wrong, and it won’t make any difference, and they know it all anyway.

I get a pension covered by PAYE, and I make less than the MTD threshold doing odds and ends of writing, and I get less than the dividend allowance on my non-ISA shares (actually, have I even got any non-ISA shares?) and less than the Personal Savings Allowance on my bank interest (actually, did the bank even pay me any interest?) and, honest go god, if they’d just take it and go away I’d happily pay the £100 fine not to have to fill in a tax return by the end of the month.

(I understand why they don’t do that, of course, because it would be a great tax loophole for people who really need to be doing a tax return)

But, honestly, every single thing that will be on my tax return is information already known to HMRC aside from my derisory three line accounts.  Which is why I’m so interested in MTD.  If it was a case of, “here’s your tax return, all you have to do is check over the figures, add your three line accounts and press send”, then it would be a boon for people like me.

Is that how we think it will work?  Or am I, instead of once a year, going to find myself in a couple of years time sitting four or five times a year thinking “I don’t want to do my taxes…”

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Straws in the wind

January 9, 2017

You may remember that in 2012 I published the rules for production of a tax impact assessment here, after I obtained them via a Freedom of Information Act (FoI) request.  I remain surprised that they are not on the gov.uk publication schedule like the instructions for Regulatory Impact Assessments since they are the equivalent.  Well, 2012 is a while ago, so on 7th November I made a FoI request for an updated copy and received an automated response with a reference number.

A month went by, so I sent a little reminder that the twenty working days deadline had been breached, and received an email back which said

Unfortunately I am currently unable to confirm your request for information being received by the Freedom of Information Team.  I have noted the reference number you have provided would have been generated by one of the department’s online enquiry forms but am unable to trace your request…

The email went on to ask me for a phone number and I had a conversation with them where they said that my request – and, judging from the reference number, a number of others – had been lost in the system.  I emailed it again directly, and I’m still waiting for a response.

Except… well, last week I received this:

Please do not reply to this email.

Thank you for contacting HMRC. You have submitted an on line enquiry using an incorrect system to a mailbox which is no longer monitored. Due to this, I am unable to reply due to Data Security issues. Could you please direct your enquiry to the correct department by following the attached hyper-link or by reviewing your Personal Tax Account, details for which are below:

Is this a phishing email?  (Because who follows hyperlinks from emails, seriously?) Or is it a response to my original FoI request (which was made on the page I got from putting “FoI” and “HMRC” into Google – I find “incorrect system” a bit annoying tbh).  Am I ever actually going to get a response to my FoI request – which I made twice, once to the automated system and once in a clear email to the person who had phoned me, and I imagine the information commissioner will find at least one of those to be a valid request.  Look HMRC, what the hell is going on?

OK, but obviously the FoI form is a separate part of the HMRC computer system: a failure there won’t have any impact on the system they build for MTD, right?  I mean, right???

 

 

 

Edit: this morning I received this response from the HMRC phishing email address:

Thank you for contacting HM Revenue & Customs.

The e-mail / phone call you received was from HM Revenue & Customs and is nothing to be concerned about.

If you think this communication is incorrect, you may wish to contact the relevant HMRC business area. HMRC contact details are published within the link below:

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-revenue-customs/contact

If your query relates to HMRC online services, you can contact our Online Services Helpdesk by telephone – 0300 200 3600 (opening times 08.00-20.00 Monday to Friday, 08.00-16.00 Saturday), or by following the link below

HYPERLINK “mailto:helpdesk@ir-efile.gov.uk” helpdesk@ir-efile.gov.uk
Regards

HMRC Online Security Team

I’m really none the wiser.

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New Year

January 4, 2017

It’s ‘go back to work’ time, oh joy.   The last time I looked there were 106 open consultations on the gov.uk website. If you filter by the subject area of Tax and Revenue you’ll find there are seven:

  • Technical consultation: draft regulations for the Apprenticeship Levy
  • Hybrid and other mismatches – draft guidance
  • Tax-advantaged venture capital schemes – streamlining the advance assurance service
  • Scope of VAT Grouping
  • Tackling offshore tax evasion: A requirement to notify HMRC of offshore structures
  • Simplifying the Gift Aid donor benefits rules: further consultation
  • Employment Allowance: restricting the allowance from employers of ‘illegal workers’

Yeah.  Still can’t list them in the order in which they close, though.

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AQA

December 7, 2016

The Parliamentary Question is an arcane art: for the person asking, the art is to phrase the question as widely as possible so as to “fish” for at least some of the facts you might want to know.  For the person answering, it is to give the minimum amount of information compatible with not actually lying in the person’s face.

Why?  Why not just ask what you want to know and then answer the bloody question?

Here’s an illuminating exchange from the 5th December Small Business debate in the Lords, from Hansard, via the indispensable “they work for you” site:

Lord Vinson (Conservative)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the fact that most small businesses assess their profits annually in arrears, whether it is the intention of HM Revenue and Customs to make small businesses report their income and expenditure quarterly; and what assessment they have made of the feasibility of this requirement. (HL Deb, 5 December 2016, cW)

In other words, MTD, can it be done?

Lord Young of Cookham Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)
HM Revenue and Customs published a consultation document setting out the Government’s proposals on 15 August 2015 entitled “Making Tax Digital: Bringing business tax into the digital age”. The consultation included an initial assessment of the impacts on businesses. The consultation closed on 7 November. The government is currently considering the responses to the Making Tax Digital consultations and will publish its response and draft legislation in January, together with an updated Tax Impact Assessment.

In other words, we’ve done an initial impact assessment and we’ll refine it in January.

Let’s turn to that impact assessment, shall we?

Look at para 8.6 on page 60, for example:

…We recognise that many businesses will incur costs, including time costs in making the transition to a digital way of transacting with HMRC.  However we do not yet have a granular understanding of what those costs will be to provide an estimate at this time.

An impact assessment is about costs, not about feasibility.  The tax impact assessment process is about three costs: the cost or gain to the exchequer (i.e. the increase or reduction in tax due as a result of a change to the system), the cost or savings to the taxpayer (the administrative burden, in terms of the standard cost model – a very precise measurement of the average cost to the averagely competent business, but not a particularly robust or realistic assessment of the actual costs to an actual business) and, thirdly, the costs or savings to HMRC.  The question Lord Vinson asked was, I think, whether businesses would be ABLE to operate MTD.  The question Lord Young answered appears to have been an entirely different one.