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.

Friday, 22 January 2010


My thanks to a loyal reader who nudged me to take a look at the evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee on 7th December 2009 by HMRC.

Question 38 appears to indicate that HMRC have committed something of a "faux pas", by issuing assessments to the wrong accountants; ie they have sent details of some people's income etc to accountants not authorised to receive it.

Isn't disclosure of such information to non authorised people "illegal" under the rules of HMRC? It certainly appears to be breach of the Data Protection Act.

"Q38 Mr Bacon: Ms Walker, you mentioned the issue of confidentiality. Is it correct - I have got your CV here but I am not sure I am reading the right bit - that you are currently, since October 2008, the Director of PAYE, Self Assessment and National Insurance?

Ms Walker: That is right.

Q39 Mr Bacon: Good. On the National Insurance and PAYE service, the NPS section of the HMRC website, there is a reference under current issues to some notices and statements having been sent to the wrong agents. I will just read the first sentence. It says: "Even though HMRC's self assessment and PAYE systems are showing the correct details some notices and statements have been issued incorrectly to the wrong agent", by which one presumably means in most cases a tax accountant or something like that. How many cases?

Ms Walker: I do not have those figures with me I am afraid.

Q40 Mr Bacon: You do not. Over what period has this been going on?

Ms Walker: It happened over a period in the summer. It has now been fixed as I understand it.

Q41 Mr Bacon: It says on the website - you have anticipated one of my later questions - that "HMRC is due to put a fix in place in December 2009". That has now happened, has it?

Ms Walker: I believe it has.

Q42 Mr Bacon: When you say "over the summer", when did it start?

Ms Walker: The new PAYE system went live at the end of June.

Q43 Mr Bacon: Right, and this breach, data being sent to the wrong people, occurred starting at what point?

Ms Walker: I do not know the details of that; I know it was something that happened in the summer.

Q44 Mr Bacon: Could you write to the Committee with a note explaining that?

Ms Walker: I will do, yes.

Q45 Mr Bacon: Have you had any discussions with the Information Commissioner about this or anyone in HMRC because it would be appear to be an obvious breach of one of the principles of data protection, which is that information must be securely kept.

Ms Walker: We have taken advice on that; I would need to write to you and tell you the total answer.

Mr Bacon: You have not talked to the Information Commissioner or you do not know if anyone has talked to the Information Commissioner. You have put on your website - which is what I find extraordinary, especially after the issues with the HMRC and the National Audit Office where, famously, 25 million names went missing - that you have been sending notices and statements out to the wrong people. You have admitted the breach on your website but you do not know whether you have had any discussions with the Information Commissioner.

Q46 Chairman: What is the answer? Do not just all shake your head, either say yes or no.

Ms Strathie: We have taken this in a different context. What you have read, I am assuming, Mr Bacon, is the known problems that we keep updating so that agents and so on know what we are working on and what we are fixing. We owe the Committee a note and we will explain the Information Commissioner point in that.

Q47 Mr Bacon: You are quite right, there are issues that have been resolved and there are current issues. This one is under "Current issues" which suggests that it has not yet been resolved.

Ms Strathie: Yes, and we are just into December, so we will confirm that.

Q48 Mr Bacon: What is the difference between sending a notice to someone who has no right to know it, that informs them, say, that Mrs Smith of Middlesbrough or Mr Jones of Cornwall is on the verge of retirement and T-Mobile sending out information or using the information that they have no right to, to phone people up and say, "Your mobile phone contract is about to expire"? This information can easily be misused by people to do marketing that they have no right to do. You can easily imagine phone calls where people would say, "Hello Mrs Smith, now that you are about to retire ..." and start selling them products. This is potentially an extremely serious breach.

Ms Walker: This is not about information about people who are about to retire as I understand it.

Q49 Mr Bacon: It does not say what it is about but some of them may be in that category, we do not know. If someone is aged 64 then presumably they are about to retire, if they are 53 they are probably less likely to.

Ms Walker: Yes, but that will not be obvious from the information that was sent out.

Q50 Mr Bacon: It might if their date of birth was there.

Ms Walker: I believe these were notices of coding which were sent to the agent when they did not have the correct authority to receive them.

Q51 Mr Bacon: It says they were sent to the wrong agent, had been issued incorrectly to the wrong agent so Mr Smith's tax accountant in Cornwall gets sent something that should have been sent to Mrs Smith's tax accountant in Middlesbrough. That is what it reads like to me. Are you saying that is not the case, that I have misunderstood it?

Ms Walker: I would need to be properly briefed on that. I am sorry, I have not got the details with me.

Q52 Mr Bacon: Perhaps you could send the Committee a detailed note.

Ms Walker: Yes, indeed.

Q53 Chairman: I did not hear that last answer; what did you say?

Ms Walker: I am sorry, I said I do not have the information with me.

Tax does have to be taxing.

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