Posts Tagged ‘Impact Assessment’


Small firms impact: not waving but drowning [Part I of 4]

February 4, 2015

Let us all wave to the House of Commons *waves* and then again to the House of Lords *waves*, our law makers.  Let us ask them to look again at a couple of the bits of paper that have been put in front of them and which have gone through on the nod.

Let’s start here, with a parliamentary question asked by David Morris, the Conservative MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, on 22nd January.  Now I know nothing about Mr Morris beyond his website (the government has a Hairdressing Council?  Seriously?) and his wikipedia entry (and I can’t say I’m that sanguine about the veracity of all of that!) but, usually a reliable source, gives small business as one of his interests.

So good for him, asking about the VATMOSS assessment of the impact on small business.

David Gauke’s reply was to refer him to the TIIN, published (on page A111 of the package of TIINs published on 10 December 2013 to accompany the draft clauses of the 2014 Finance Bill)

Let’s pause for a minute while you open up another screen, click on the link, and find page A111.  You might want to print it out, because we’ll be referring to it a fair bit over the next couple of entries.

Now to start with, what are we looking at here?  What is a TIIN?  Well I happen to know, because I was in the team that kind of accidentally invented the TIIN, when I was in charge of the Impact Assessment programme for tax measures.  An impact assessment is a formal document assessing the costs and benefits of making a regulatory change, and don’t get me started there (that’s what my PhD is about, amongst other things) and has to be done according to fairly strict protocols.  If you’re interested, there’s a hundred and eight pages of guidance you can access from this link (It was only 95 pages in my day).

At the point the coalition government came into office, there was a proposal to change the impact assessment template to make the format much tighter – to compel you to put an actual number to the costs/benefits and to put the numbers into the same format, essentially so that BIS could track the numbers across the whole government.  But that kind of impact assessment isn’t particularly helpful for tax changes, because the amount of tax raised or foregone is normally much greater than the administrative burden of the change itself.  So there was a lot of internal civil service politics around whether tax changes should be in or out of the new system, and this coincided with the move to improve the process of tax policy making itself, and the outcome was the invention of a tailored tax impact assessment process… but at the last moment the Treasury decided they wanted to combine the tax impact assessment with the Budget Note which HMRC used to produce explaining tax changes, and so we wound up with the Tax Information and Impact Note, the TIIN.

The TIIN, then, should explain what is being done and why, and include an assessment of the costs and benefits – to the exchequer, to the “customer”, and to HMRC.  It should also give the outcome of any other impacts which have been assessed, including equalities and other impacts to which governments have committed themselves (see the list on page 34 here and on page 66 here)

So.  David Gauke is telling us – is telling Parliament, in fact – that this TIIN contains the government’s assessment of the impact of the VATMOSS changes.

Let’s see what it says then, shall we?

First of all, look at the bottom of the first page, “background to the measure”.  This says:

Background to the measure

The measure was announced at 2013 Budget. Business input has been provided through joint business/HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) groups.

Now, if you have been following the #VATMOSS #VATMESS hashtags or the articles in Taxation about POSMOSS you will know that one of the principal complaints of the micro and nano-businesses whose kitchen table businesses are likely to be wiped out by the change is that they were completely overlooked in the consultation process.  So who was representing small businesses on these “joint business/HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) groups”?

I honestly don’t think that’s an unreasonable question to ask.

So I asked it.  On November 25th last year I sent a friendly email to the person who is named as the contact on HMRC documents, saying that it might well just be my google-fu was lacking but I couldn’t find the minutes of these meetings online as I’d expect so could he please point me to them?  I thought it was more than likely that the links was buried somewhere on but just in case it wasn’t, I said if they weren’t yet published, would he please consider this a Freedom of Information Act request?

I had no reply.  But then I’d guessed at his email address (HMRC email addresses are usually in the format firstname dot lastname but they can vary, after all) so on 11 December I put the request in formally via the HMRC Freedom of Information Act “portal” and had an acknowledgement telling me that

A response is being prepared and the statutory deadline is 13 January 2015.

On 21 January I sent another polite reminder asking why I hadn’t had a reply yet.  And on 30th January I received a reply.


The external membership consisted of: Publishing: 3 small businesses Online Gaming: 2 small businesses Digital Services: 4 small businesses Other sectors/organisations: 3 representatives


I do not consider that there is a particular public interest in releasing the names of the micro or small businesses/organisations involved.

Now just a minute…

There used to be a handy page on the HMRC website that listed all the consultative groups, with links to their minutes and memberships.  It’s not there on (well if it is, I haven’t found it yet!) but some individual groups are.  Look, here’s the Joint Customs Consultative Committee, the Research and Development Consultative Committee, the Joint VAT Consultative Committee (which, oh look, discussed MOSS on 8th May 2014…)

Are we seriously arguing that it’s a secret who the government talked to about introducing VAT MOSS?

No-none is planning on descending on the consulted businesses with pitchforks and torches – no responsibility resides with someone being consulted in answering for themselves and their own knowledge.  But there is a HUGE responsibility on HMRC and other government departments to ask the right people – to seek out and talk to the affected businesses.

Yes, I’ll be following up the FoI request – watch this space – but the arrogance (or defensiveness?) of saying there’s no public interest in knowing who HMRC consulted with, when the whole point of the outcry is that there are large numbers of people saying “I’m affected!  Who was representing me?”…. well, I think it’s just staggering.


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?



One point one billion

January 9, 2013

The coalition government doesn’t like the additional income tax rate of 50% on people with incomes of more than £150,000 a year. It says that the previous government’s estimates of the yield were wrong and published a detailed paper reviewing the actual amounts raised, to support its argument that the rate should be reduced from April.

The detailed report is here and if you will be kind enough to turn to page 39 and look at table 5.3 you will see that the adjusted figure for yield in 2010/11 is £1.1 billion.

In other words, if I’m reading it right, the government says that the additional rate didn’t bring in the five or so billion that Labour had suggested, but it did bring in £1.1 billion.  The conclusion (paragraph 5.64 on page 45) agrees:

Although the estimates are subject to a wide range of uncertainty, they suggest that the underlying yield is much lower than originally forecast, possibly only raising £1 billion at most.

Now, there was some comment yesterday during the debate on the Welfare Uprating Bill, because the Impact Assessment hadn’t been published till a couple of hours before the debate, so the information in it couldn’t really be used to inform the discussion.

Let’s look at it now, shall we?  Here it is: and, oh look!  Here’s what it says about the yield (the amount of money the government will “save” by not uprating benefits to keep pace with inflation)

Overall, it is estimated that savings to the Government from up-rating certain benefits by 1 per cent rather than by the CPI inflation rate, will be around £1.1 bn in 2014/15 and £1.9bn in 2015/16 in cash terms.  The savings will continue into the future and gradually increase in cash terms.

Of course it’s not a straightforward comparison – if it were, would even this coalition think that spending £1.1 bn on tax breaks for those earning over £150k was so important they’d take £1.1bn off of people working in low paid jobs and earning tax credits to pay for it… would they?  The £1.1bn from the top rate tax is the adjusted estimated total yield from the tax and not the total estimated reduction in tax take due from reducing the rate.  But if you look here at the tax information and impact note for the rate change you’ll see that the government aren’t really sure what the effect of reducing the rate will be, which is of course entirely in tune with their argument that we aren’t really sure what the tax brings in in the first place.

The impact assessment, of course, is a tool of evidence-based policy-making, and on these documents the evidence looks a bit uncertain to me.  Is the argument made?  Time will tell.

But in cash terms, what we seem to be talking about is whether incentivising the 300,000 people who pay additional rate income tax by giving them a tax cut of five p in the pound for their income over 150k is more important – more useful to  society?  More likely to get the economy moving?  More just?  More fair?  More… civilised?  Than taking it from people on job seekers allowance because there are no jobs, or on working tax credit because the jobs that exist are low paid?  It seems to be a question of priorities rather than evidence.


Self defence?

July 19, 2012

I am grateful to Ian Brownhill for his article on the Justice Gap blog with the news that the government is changing what happens if you are accused of a crime.  From this autumn, if you are accused and found innocent, you will no longer be able to claim reasonable costs of your defence but only an amount equivalent to the amount which would have been paid out if you’d been on legal aid.  So no fancy forensic work and no high profile barrister and you might at some point have to make a Sophie’s Choice between keeping your house and keeping out of prison.

Where does this come from?  The legislation is in The Costs in Criminal Cases (General)(Amendment) Regulations 2012.  So, yes, I thought I’d have a look for the impact assessment.  And, no, there isn’t one.  This is what the Explanatory Memorandum says:

10.1 The impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies was set out in the final Impact Assessment that was published with the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 which can be found at funds.pdf

OK, so there’s no impact assessment for this particular statutory instrument, but the impacts were taken into account in the IA for the enabling legislation.

Let’s look there, then.

What is the problem under consideration?  Why is government intervention necessary? Individuals who are found not guilty (or acquitted) in criminal cases and who have paid privately for their defence may have their expenses reimbursed, including legal costs, from central funds.  The central funds budget is a Ministry of Justice budget.  The problem under consideration is that central funds spending has exceeded its set budget, which cannot be extended because of the Government’s fiscal deficit reduction objectives.  Government intervention is required to maintain central funds within budget.

All right, that’s plain enough.  There’s no more money.  The budget is fixed.  The problem is how to stay within a fixed budget with a fluctuating and presumably increasing set of costs.

The impact assessment should then go on to consider the options available to meet that objective. (para 58 of the IA toolkit:)

it is Government policy to regulate only as a last resort, having demonstrated that satisfactory outcomes cannot be achieved by alternatives, self-regulatory or non- regulatory approaches. These options should be considered during this step.

What do we think?  “The government should give them more money” is one obvious option that’s ruled out by the way the question is framed; what we’re looking at is ways to stay within the set budget limit.  Well what about using money that we get from elsewhere?  Fines and penalties, for example?  There was a spare 59.5 million from the Barclays fine that was only going to be used to lower the fees the other bankers paid for self-regulation, as I recall – couldn’t we use that?

The impact assessment doesn’t contain any options other than cap the fees or do nothing.  Hmmmm.

It also suggests that the amount to be raised by making the change is about fifty million a year – hey, Barclays could pay for this year and we could set a higher budget next year?  No??  Just a thought!

Legal Aid Clients and Providers: An estimated loss of up to £50m in nominal cash from central funds payments. £10m of this is from companies being excluded from central funds on the basis that they might be able to buy insurance. £40m is from paying only legal aid remuneration rates. The burden would be shared between providers and clients depending on whether clients choose to pay their provider over and above legal aid rates.

All right then – this is the important bit.  The change means that companies can’t claim back their expenses any more but are expected to have (or obtain) insurance, which saves around £10m a year.  The remaining £40m is shared between providers and clients.  Track that thought, it’s important.

Because impact assessments are all about the impact on businesses.  The theory is that if the state makes you and me fill in a form on a Sunday afternoon, well, we’re annoyed but we haven’t lost anything financially.  But if the state makes a business fill in a particular form, then – the theory goes – the business has suffered an “administrative burden” – has been forced to pay someone to spend some time doing something that doesn’t earn them profits.

And that’s why impact assessments are all about the costs and benefits to business – you and I, as citizens, may think that it’s unconscionable that we wouldn’t be reimbursed our legal fees were we to be falsely accused of something but, in Impact Assessment terms, that doesn’t matter.  What does matter here, I think, is that the government hasn’t followed its own rules.

Part of the impact assessment, as I’ve said before, is to look at the impact on small businesses.

Now, it says clearly that the burden of this change will fall on both “clients and providers” – both the people wrongly accused and the people who defend them.  The people who defend them who might be solicitors or barristers, in small or large firms.

Because what is a “small firm” for the purposes of the small firms impact test?  It’s a firm with fewer than 20 employees.  Not partners, not members; employees.

How many solicitors are in small firms within that definition?  I don’t know, but I’d suspect a large number.  How many barristers?  I don’t know, but I’d suspect nearly all of them.  And the government has made this regulatory change without taking that into consideration.

Look at clauses 56-60 on the impact assessment for the main legislation.  Most of it is about the removal of repayment provisions for companies accused of wrongdoing: the only consideration of small firms who are legal services providers is in paragraph 60:

Small firms which are legal services providers may be affected by these proposals if their income and/or levels of business is lower in future.

Well big hairy woo – how many of them might be affected and in what way?  We don’t know and we don’t care, seemingly.  But look again at the explanatory memorandum to the actual SI making the change:

11. Regulating small business

11.1 The legislation does not apply to small business.

I put it to you that this is nonsense.  The statutory instrument fixes “the amount to be paid to the accused”: how many wrongly accused people are also small business owners (one man or “micro businesses” in the jargon)?  We don’t know, and MoJ doesn’t care.  How much of the impact of this change will affect legal services providers who are also small businesses?  Again, we don’t know, and MoJ doesn’t care.

Yes, I agree, I’m finding a piece of legislation I don’t like and trying to find a way of overturning it on a technicality.  But for heaven’s sake, the government makes these rules to regulate its own conduct, because it knows that some of its members and servants think it appropriate to say “Yes, Minister” when they ought to be saying “are you sure, Minister?”

One final thought.  I had a not tremendously helpful response from BIS to my Open Letter to Mark Prisk on the subject of the small firms impact test.  It tells me that “independent scrutiny of IAs through the Regulatory Policy Committee” ought to drive up the quality of IAs in the medium term.  I did look on the RPC site for their opinion on the Central Funds IA but couldn’t find it, and to date they haven’t answered my phone message or email asking them for  a link.  But if you look here, at their last annual report, and turn to pages 60-62, you’ll see the MoJ has a less than stellar record of having not one impact assessment scored as “green” on the RPC’s red/amber/green ratings grid at its first attempt, and it only managed to get two of its twenty eight listed IAs through the “green” hurdle on the second attempt.  Maybe a nice little judicial review of whether this legislation should be sent back and its impact on small firms given proper consideration might encourage them to pay more attention in future?


Informal consultation

July 3, 2012

So I had another look at the 29th June iteration of the tax tracker and noticed this:

Heritage maintenance funds

Consultation on easing a restriction for trusts that are heritage maintenance funds and which have deferred, or may defer, capital gains tax charges arising from the resettlement of assets from one to another.



So it’s an informal consultation… which means there’s no formal consultation document for us to read.

What’s it all about, then?

In the 2012 Budget document it was announced that

2.76 Heritage Maintenance Funds (HMFs) – Applying with effect from April 2012, the Government will legislate to ease a restriction for trusts that are HMFs and which have deferred CGT charges arising from the re-settlement of assets from one HMF to another. (Finance Bill 2013)

OK let’s break that down.  Whatever it is will apply from April 2012 – ie it’s already in effect, whatever it is.  But it won’t be in the Finance Bill till 2013.  So far so good: a technical change can be done like that – announce it now, and legislate it later – because the few people to whom it will apply will know about it from the technical press and there’s maybe a long lead-in time for a transaction.

But what *is* the change, and who are they consulting about it?

Well I strongly suspect we can get the answer from Google: if you put in “Heritage Maintenance Fund” as your search term, the first entry you get is a link to the HMRC Instruction Manual at TSEM5800 telling you that a heritage maintenance fund is a fund set up to maintain a historic building, and that if HMRC staff come across them they shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about them but pass them on to a specialist unit in Nottingham. (I paraphrase).

The second entry, however, is a link to the Historic Houses Association page where the HHA helpfully explain that they want these funds (which are intended to build up the money to maintain historic houses and which are therefore exempt from Inheritance Tax) to have special treatment for income tax and capital gains tax as well.  They have a lobbying paper which sets out their stall, and where they argue amongst other things “the public benefits of privately owned heritage” – to which the only answer is, surely, “well they would, wouldn’t they?”

I have no beef with historic houses or the HHA but I read between the lines that the Historic Houses Association have lobbied for changes and have succeeded in getting, not all that they wanted, but at least one small concession.

Which begs the question, with whom is HMRC and/or HMT currently informally consulting?

It’s not just a point for the policy wonks amongst us.  Essentially the government is telling all of us not to worry our pretty little heads about it.  The point of an informal consultation is to talk to the people who will be affected by a decision to make sure the legislation works in the way it was intended to work.  In effect, the government says “I’ve decided to give the Widget Industry a tax break on oak widgets but not on mahogany ones” and then talks to widget industry representatives about whether this will distort the market or have any unintended consequences for the beech-, tin- and plastic-widget makers.

What an informal consultation doesn’t do, however, is let in any light on the wider question for the citizen.

There’s no Impact Assessment with an informal consultation.  So there’s no indication of how much it will cost to give the Heritage Maintenance Funds some but not all of what the Historic Houses Association might want, and no indication of the benefits that might accrue.  A TIIN will no doubt be published in due course with the actual legislation – but, isn’t that a bit late, for legislation that won’t even be published till next year, but which is already in force?

But let’s not worry our pretty little heads about it.  I’m sure Nottingham Trusts Office and the Historic Houses Association between them have it covered.  So that’s all right, then.

There’s an easy way to satisfy the citizen that the lobbyists haven’t taken over making tax legislation.   In the written ministerial statement that introduced the TIIN for tax changes, David Gauke said:

From Budget 2011 onwards, the Government will publish a tax information and impact note for tax policy changes at the point at which the policy design is final or near final.

So, er, if legislation is going to be backdated to last April, doesn’t that mean the “policy design” is already final?

How about it, Minister?


Hold the front page

June 13, 2012

Well, all right, not the front page.  But hold the consultation deadline, please!  I thought I would step outside of tax today and respond to the government’s consultation on equal marriage.  This closes tomorrow (and I urge you all to take the time to respond).

There’s a simple way of replying, by filling in a web form to be found here – it’s pretty self explanatory.  However I wanted to read the actual, full, consultation document and found that the link to it on the consultation page is a self-referral, ie it takes  you back to the same page that you’re looking at already, ie the web form.

Well, Messrs Google fixed that for me, and I found the full condoc here, and I emailed and tweeted the Home Office to ask them to fix the technical problem.

However I can’t find the Impact Assessment.

No, seriously, I googled it, and the google link that said it was a link to the IA just took me back to the web form page again.  Either my google fu has deserted me altogether, or there’s a serious problem with the links on the Home Office website.

There is a commitment to publish an Impact Assessment with any legislative proposal of a regulatory nature.  In other words, you can’t make a sensible decision on whether a piece of law is a good or bad idea unless you know the size of the problem it’s addressing, how much it will cost to implement, and what kind of unintentional side effects there are likely to be.  I suggest that the Home Office is vulnerable to judicial review if it doesn’t make all the relevant documents available, and that a website with broken and self-cancelling links doesn’t qualify as making them available.  I suggest they need to check their links and make the full condoc and Impact Assessment available before the consultation period closes tomorrow, and that it would be a good idea if they were to extend the consultation period by a few weeks in order to give all the interested parties time to look at all the relevant material.


Beware of the leopard: TIIN instructions

May 18, 2012

I am publishing at the end of this post (click on “read the rest of this entry”) the instructions on how to prepare a TIIN, a tax information and impact note.  They were sent to me by HMRC on 16th May 2012 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.  The file is reproduced by a simple cut and paste from the RTF file supplied: I haven’t cleaned up the formatting or made any changes from what was sent to me.

Before you click to look, think about this.

The guidance on how to complete a regulatory Impact Assessment, the equivalent document for non-tax changes, is clear and publicly available.  This enables independent scrutiny via the Regulatory Policy Committee.

The RPC assesses impact assessments against well established guidance set out by the BRE IA Guidance, IA Toolkit, One-in, One-out Methodology, and HM Treasury’s Green Book.

Isn’t it now time that the government also made public the standard it sets itself when considering the evidence for making tax changes?  This guidance should be on the HMRC website and kept updated, so that everyone can see the contents – not hidden in the filing cabinet in the locked office behind the “beware of the leopard” sign.  Or on a retired tax inspector’s blog, for that matter!

Read the rest of this entry ?