Are HMRC being given too much power, asks AC Mole's Paul Aplin

Paul Aplin, of AC Mole

Paul Aplin, of AC Mole

First published in Business, sponsored by AC Mole and Everys

TAX expert Paul Aplin says HMRC are about to be given too much power to recoup money.

YOU may have read that the taxman is seeking a new legal power to collect certain tax debts direct from bank accounts.

Serious concerns have been expressed by MPs, accountancy bodies, charities and civil liberties groups. I believe that their concerns are well founded.

HMRC must of course have effective powers and adequate resources to collect tax that is due.

Those who deliberately fail to pay their tax do so at the expense of the overwhelming majority who act honestly.

Ministers say that the proposed new power would only be used where someone has persistently ignored communications from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs.

A number of safeguards are being proposed but the new power would completely bypass the need for a court (or indeed anyone independent of HMRC) to be involved. HMRC would become judge, jury and (as one commentator has put it) executioner.

I have seen too many cases where HMRC has pursued tax that has either already been paid or that is not actually due to be comfortable with seeing HMRC granted this new power.

I once received a letter myself threatening a visit from HMRC to mark goods for auction to cover unpaid tax.

The problem was, I didn’t owe any tax. Because I make my living advising people how to deal with the tax system I knew what to do, but most wouldn’t have.

Until HMRC can guarantee that this kind of thing won’t happen it should not have the power to take money from someone’s account.

And one influential MP on the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee has suggested that if HMRC does obtain this power other government departments and other public bodies including local councils will ask for it too. HMRC’s main argument for needing the new power is the cost of taking cases through the courts.

That is a weak argument. If tax is owed then HMRC should pursue it and if it does not have sufficient resources to do so it should ask for more, not for a short cut though the legal system.

If you share these concerns there is something you can do to make your voice heard.

It only takes a minute to sign the online petition at http://epetitions. direct.gov.uk/petitions/68384.

If a leading civil liberties group like Liberty is concerned we all should be.

If this power is granted widely by Parliament the bank account concerned might one day be yours.

Paul Aplin OBE is a tax partner with A.C. Mole & Sons and chairman of the Technical Committee of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales Tax Faculty; you can follow him on Twitter @PaulAplinOnTax. He and fellow tax partners Amanda Gunter and Paul Kingdom can be contacted on 01823-624450.

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