2019 Loan Charge group condemns ‘HMRC’s sick joke’

A response by the taxman to a 2019 Loan Charge (LC) lobby group who called for a 24-hour suicide phoneline seems to have backfired, as it has angered the lobbyist not pacified it.

Firstly, the response took over three weeks to emerge and then, it was from HMRC’s counter-avoidance director, not its CEO who was written to about the phoneline, the group scorned.

Secondly, rather than address the specific issue of HMRC setting up the line as Jon Thompson was asked, the director Julia Elsey has “deliberately ignored” it, accuses LCAG.    

And in her reply, Ms Elsey merely directs those affected to an existing anti-avoidance hotline so they can “put their tax affairs right,” says The Loan Charge Action Group in a new letter.

“[This is] something contractors have called a sick joke, considering that the unfair pursuit of people’s tax affairs…[is what] led to the severe distress they are experiencing,” LCAG says.

“The letter we have received from Ms. Elsey is equally [as] disgraceful [as not receiving a direct reply from Mr Thompson] but, as we have come to expect, [is]…typical [of] HMRC.”

The part of her reply that LCAG is most “astonished” by is the hint that distressed LC contractors can only phone HMRC between 8.30am and 4pm -- when the hotline is open.

“So do you expect people who are reporting suicidal thoughts to only do [so] in office hours?!” HMRC is asked in LCAG’s new letter, to be published tomorrow on ContractorUK.

“Were it not so serious, this would be laughable. [But as] we raised with you the very real threat of people taking their own lives…, ​this is frankly disgusting​.”

A direct reply to whether the Revenue will launch a suicide helpline “with trained counsellors not tax advisers” for 2019 Loan Charge customers is now being sought by the group.

Even if the answer is ‘no,’ “please at least have the courage to say so, rather than ignoring the question and passing it on to someone else,” says the letter, addressed to Mr Thompson.

In the meantime, and due to being “inundated” with calls by contractors severely anxious about old loans being taxed as income by April next year, LCAG has stepped into the void.

“With no support being offered by HMRC or HM Treasury, LCAG have put in place a volunteer counsellor to field such calls,” Mr Thompson is told.

“[We have done this] even though it is not the group’s role or responsibility to do so.”

In Ms Elsey’s letter, the nearest HMRC comes to grasping the specific issue of people contemplating taking their lives because of the backdated tax demands is when she says:

“We recognise that some people will face significant bills, and take our duty of care very seriously.

“We have guidance and training in place for our teams on how to provide support for vulnerable people, and those who are worried or anxious about their tax affairs. We also work closely with mental health charities, to improve how we help these individuals.”

Sounding more than unconvinced, LCAG said: “Claiming that HMRC take your duty of care seriously is as hollow as your claims to take mental health seriously.”

Citing criticism of HMRC by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, it added: “Stephen Lloyd MP, the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne, [has] also… expressed his serious concern about the mental health and wellbeing of many facing unpayable bills and bankruptcy as a result of the Loan Charge.”

Since Mr Lloyd’s involvement, which extends to an Early Day Motion, Roger Godsiff MP used a written Parliamentary Question to enquire about a phone service to support distressed people facing bankruptcy due to the 2019 Loan Charge.

“We hope that you will stop trying to avoid accountability and responsibility and respond to them and to us,” LCAG told Mr Thompson.

“You (HMRC collectively and as chief executive and director general, personally) cannot and must not ignore or deny the reality of the impact of the Loan Charge.”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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