HMRC Is Shite

HMRC Is Shite
Dedicated to the taxpayers of Britain, and the employees of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), who have to endure the monumental shambles that is HMRC.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Big Brother - HMRC's Licence To Bug

Big Brother
Orwell's view of the totalitarian state that monitors our every spoken word, written word and action came closer to reality last week, when our good old friends in HMRC were granted the right to bug our phones and intercept our email if they suspect us of tax fraud.

HMRC, on top of its power to arrest people, can now intercept phone calls, emails and letters, as well as bug residential premises and private vehicles.

HMRC see nothing to be alarmed about, as they calmly state:

"Customs officers have always had these powers because of their criminal investigations into drugs and guns.

Now they will be granted across the board. We could use it purely in tax matters. Tax offences are quite often combined with other forms of criminality

HMRC promise that all surveillance will be conducted in compliance with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Wilson Doctrine (which we know was brazenly flouted with the revelations that police have been bugging protected conversations between suspects, MPs and their lawyers).

HMRC will also be subject to checks by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners and the Interception of Communication Commissioners Office.

Therefore, why should we be worried by this development?

Here's why you need to be very worried:

1 The Wilson doctrine, as already stated, has been breached.

2 HMRC will not need to seek external authorisation for any of its surveillance activities.

3 HMRC has not drawn up any code of conduct for how it will use its "exciting" new powers.

4 In 2005 explicit assurances were given that the merger of the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise would not give rise to an alignment of powers. These assurances have been broken.

5 HMRC will act as judge, jury and executioner. Due process, as required for other aspects of law enforcement by other organs of the state, will not be followed.

6 HMRC is massively incompetent (eg datagate, tax credits etc), they cannot be trusted with such powers.

7 There is no evidence to support the need for extending HMRC's already excessive powers.

Am I alone in finding that thought of HMRC being given such powers to be more than a little worrying?

How can we trust the government, or HMRC, not to misuse these new powers?

I would note that they can bug anyone, on the slightest suspicion of tax fraud/evasion. HMRC will be the judge as to what constitutes reasonable "suspicion".

Given that, under Gordon Brown, HMRC is being used as a tool of the state to impose its political will (eg the erosion of the right to avoid paying tax) there is a very clear and present danger to our liberties with this extension of HMRC powers.

Harry Travers, partner at law firm BCL Burton Copeland, is far from impressed. He is quoted on AccountingWeb:

"It seems clear to me that HMRC used the merger to push for greater powers.

There is no evidence that bugging powers are needed in relation to direct tax fraud, and HMRC did not even attempt to provide any

I would also remind you that some Customs and Excise prosecutions have collapsed in recent years, due to the abuse by officers of their powers.

The prosecution for Operation Venison, which led to accusations of VAT fraud for five Manchester businessmen three years ago, fell through due to "muddle, incompetence and lack of frankness" said Mr Justice Crane.

Can HMRC be trusted not to misuse these powers?

No, they can't!

Every email, conversation and phone call by anyone can now be listened to by HMRC (ie the state).

This is wrong.

It is now necessary for the public to take a stand against the state, and to ensure that these powers are revoked at the earliest opportunity.

In the short term I recommend that people equip themselves with anti bugging devices, and ensure that their emails are encrypted.

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite ( is brought to you by "The Living Brand"


  1. You are right, I can't believe that there is not more in the media about this. HMRC have proved themselves to be dangerously incompetent across the board and now their incompetence has been rewarded with great power. Dave Hartnett preaches reform, compliance and transparency, but he's actually just amassing power.

  2. They won't be bugging me as I only ever make 'phone calls using a non-UK based VOIP service and pretty much all my e-mail is encrypted as a matter of course.

    I wonder how long it will be before VOIP services are regulated, or outlawed, in the interests of "public safety" or some other such nonsense.

  3. Sadly VoIP services are monitored as easily as email and as for encrypted email. Lol !!
    The spooks can go through any commercially available encryption like a hot knife through butter. Consider the reasons why all encryption systems have to be licensed and you'll understand why!
    If the spooks can read the most sensitive messages that are very highly encrypted and pass through diplomatic and military channels they'll have no problems with your email!
    Sad but true.

  4. It's happening all over Europe. Tax agencies are joining hands and exchanging information. Bank secrecy is going down the tubes. Mind you, the Inland Revenue always had a "guilty until you can prove yourself innocent" attitude.

  5. This is a really informative site, and I find myself in agreement with the author on most points.

    I took the decision this year to refuse to submit a tax return following what can only be described as a series of "monumental cockups" across the board, not just within Her Majesty's Royal Cockups.

    25 million records lost in a series of catastrophic failures at HMRC... the effects of which may not be apparent for a number of years. To place blame of a "junior" member of staff simply doesn't wash.
    HMRC's inability to build & maintain a site capable of dealing with a mere 200,000 users. I currently manage 5 corporate servers which handle around 15,000,000 hits every day. If I can develop and deploy an infrastructure on a fraction of the HMRC's budget, I'm positive they could do the same.
    The SAO gateway and the hilarious notion that it's "safe and secure" when in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Even if the front-end was secured, what's stopping another "junior" member of staff forwarding a database backup on the nearest CD-R?

    If it's "safe and secure", why are MP's and celebs not allowed to use it? Is my personal identity & data somehow less important to that of an MP/celeb?

    As much as I appreciate Ken's efforts, providing a portal for tax-payers to vent their frustration is NOT going to make the slightest difference.

    If your child kept pushing your £5 notes down the drain, would you try to reason with them... or would you stop giving them the money? We're funding them for christ sake! Without us, the system can't exist.

  6. Anom

    Thanks for your comments.

    However, re:

    "As much as I appreciate Ken's efforts, providing a portal for tax-payers to vent their frustration is NOT going to make the slightest difference"

    I disagree.

    HMRC, as it stands now, is the creation of Brown.

    It has been politicised (eg re the moves against avoidance), and is a living monument to the incompetence of Nu labour (wrt its shambolic management and internal controls/secuirty).

    Politicians, especially Brown and his ilk, hate to admit when they are wrong.

    They ignore all the comments provided by tax specialists etc about the failings of the tax system.

    The only way to force them to make even slight "improvement" is to shine a very bright light on them and their failings, and to humiliate both the senior management of HMRC (all waiting for their gongs) and Brown etc.

    Then, and only then, might we see a marginal "improvement".


  7. Hi Ken

    Thanks for your speedy reply.

    I think we're way beyond needing a marginal improvement... the time has come to overhaul the entire system.

    The troubles @ the HMRC are really the tip of the iceberg; corruption and groce mis-management of funds occurs in nearly every authority in the UK. I am self-employed but the majority of my work is for a local council (who shall remain unnamed).

    I have (quite literally) pleaded with upper management to reconsider several orders which I felt were completely unjustifyable. One particular order requested 2 £9000 workstations for a member of staff that still hasn't mastered the 7 existing machines. Their argument... "it's only an extra £9k and he'll be able to work more efficiently with newer technology". When I asked if he'd be a better driver if I put him behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car... he admitted it 'may' be overkill but "the money needs to be spent before the end of the year" - At which point, I left the office with my blood pressure considerably higher.

    Budgets are upper limits, not goals... but if it's there to spend, they make damn sure it's spent (or next years budget is reduced)

    It's an absolute farce and will continue to get worse until all UK residents unite and put a stop to it.

    They can't lock everyone up for non-payment... they're already running over "acceptable operational limits", so what's the worst that can happen?

    Even Adam Hart-Davis and HMRC's own staff know it's a joke, but apparently Adam isn't allowed his own opinion... hence his recent departure, and I believe the "disgruntled lemmings" was closed down (or at least removed from public view) too.

    I see your point about highlighting their failures, but I'm not interested in pointing the finger anymore and I'm tired of hearing "lessons to learn"... they've had long enough to get things right and they're obviously incapable of doing so; still, it's nothing a fresh new slogan wouldn't fix ;)

    Where's my passport...

  8. /\
    groce, unjustifyable???

    I think I need sleep! Can you correct those please Ken?