Suicide helpline for 2019 Loan Charge victims urged
A group set up to lobby against the 2019 Loan Charge has become so overrun with stopping affected people from taking their own lives that it is urging HMRC to open a suicide helpline.
The Loan Charge Action Group was formed to raise awareness about the retrospective tax charge, unveiled at Budget 2016 yet affecting loans as far back as 1999 -- from April 2019.
But instead of being able to focus solely on providing details about the charge, its staff are having to deal with attempted suicides over the phone -- at a rate of two in about as many weeks.
“[At around 10.30 at night, a caller] clearly of a suicidal mindset…attributed this directly due to the realisation of what the 2019 Loan Charge will mean for him and his family.
“Shockingly, this was the second such call in less than two weeks…[following] a similarly distressed cry for help at 1:30 in the morning”, says LCAG, in an emergency letter to HMRC.
A third case of attempted suicide was reported by the group, which said that the ‘2019 Loan Charge’ was cited in the records of a hospital where the person is now recovering.
'Not professionally trained'
Although its letter calling HMRC to urgently act speaks of being ‘thankful’ to help those in distress, LCAG reminds that it is “not professionally trained to deal with people at risk of, or threatening suicide.”
“Our role is to challenge the unfair basis of the 2019 Loan Charge”, it said. “It is not to deal with and assist those who are facing acute anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.”
While HMRC may argue that it too does not possess counselling or life-saving expertise, the department does have a ‘Needs Enhanced Support’ service, designed for vulnerable people.
'Countless' attempted suicides
However John Thompson, chief executive of HMRC, is in effect told that the now ‘countless’ suicide attempts is beyond NES’s capabilities.
“[HMRC’s] vulnerable customer policy is not sufficient nor will it prevent mental breakdown or suicides,” write Steve Packham and Andrew Earnshaw, LCAG’s executive directors.
“Tax advisers tell us that they receive several calls every day from clients who have only just been made aware of the charge and its implications, some have lost count of how many have decided suicide is the only way out.”
'I'm not afraid of death'
A tax dispute specialist who has spelt out those implications, WTT Consulting, said this month that its founder has had to reportedly ‘talk people down off ledges’ due to the charge.
“These victims never set out to avoid tax,” says LCAG spokesman Richard Horsley. “They were simply following professional advice, often as a requirement of their contact employment.
“HMRC must accept responsibility for their implementing this policy and the consequences of doing so…they must set up a hotline and deal with the consequences of this policy and their unfair pursuit of people who are at risk.”
Loans caught by the legislation will be charged at the recipient’s marginal rates of tax which (for most people and given the average value of the loans), will likely be a swingeing 40 per cent.
Aside to six strands of mandatory information to accompany the payment, which must be made up of both the tax and NIC due from the year the loans were first received, HMRC has the right to issue penalties.
Described by a tax adviser as “severe,” the initial penalty is £300 for failing to declare by the deadline in April 2019, further to £60 every day the payment is outstanding. HMRC can also apply an additional penalty of up to £3,000 for providing it with incorrect information.