Halt loan charge settlements or risk more suicides, Hammond told

Sixty people contemplating suicide over Loan Charge 2019 has led to a potentially life-saving appeal to Philip Hammond to halt settlements to allow a “genuine” review of the tax.   

The Loan Charge APPG does not identify the 60 to the chancellor but has said that, if they could, they would inform NHS authorities of what is now a “public health emergency.”

Instead in their appeal, the cross-party MP group tells Mr Hammond it has received “factual evidence” of two loan charge-induced suicides, but says six more suicides may have occurred too.

In fact, following claims about the six by by an ex-tax officer, the APPG has asked HMRC’s CEO John Thompson, because the ex-officer alleges that the department knows about the deaths.

'Wilfully and deliberately'

But the APPG says that despite replying, Mr Thompson “wilfully and deliberately ignored” its key question of ‘how many suicides of people facing the loan charge is HMRC aware of?’

His reply suggests that HMRC believes it is up to campaigners to provide identifying details, as it says “despite…repeated requests to [lobbyist] LCAG, no information has been provided”.

The APPG -- themselves asked by Mr Thompson to “share any information” of a person facing the charge who took their own life, called the conduct of HMRC’s CEO “disgraceful.”

'You are not in control'

“Either HMRC are aware of suicides linked to the Loan Charge”, the MPs say in their letter, “or you are not in control of your organisation and unaware of a matter as serious as the reports of suicide of people being pursued by HMRC.

“It is, to us, frankly inconceivable that you would not be informed of a suicide if reported to HMRC officers. If you are aware about the suicides, then you have attempted to mislead members of parliament, which is a very serious matter for someone in your position.”

In line with Mr Thompson’s request for them to provide details to him, the APPG’s Sir Edward Davey quoted evidence that the inquiry has received from an advisory firm.

'Inconceivable'

“I can tell you categorically that a client who was facing the loan charge did commit suicide last year,” the firm said.

“The [client’s] accountant has been told not to disclose the name of the company or the person involved…[so] it is inconceivable that the HMRC officer handling the settlement will not be aware of this company or the death”.

With future settlements, “an immediate halt” must now be put in place, Sir Ed has told Mr Hammond in a letter the chancellor is yet to reply to, “until it [the charge] has been properly scrutinised”.

'Time limits'

The Lib Dem MP’s emphasis to No 11 Downing St. on ‘proper scrutiny’ and for a ‘genuine’ review alludes to fears that the HMT review of the charge will be a “whitewash.”

Those fears were stoked last week when Spring Statement documents appeared to suggest the review will be confined to comparing “the time limits for the recovery of lost tax involving an offshore matter with other time limits.”

If the review does have such a singular focus, it will contradict what Treasury minister Mel Stride told Ross Thomson MP, the vice-chair of the APPG, in a letter before the statement.

“I can assure you that the report…will consider the impact of the charge on DR [Disguised Remuneration] loans,” the minister wrote in response to a question from the MP.

“As I set out in parliament when the government accepted the amendment requiring the review, the government is committed to setting out the rational for its policies as well as their impact, and it is in that spirit which we accepted the amendment.”

'Pernicious'

Alongside his loan charge APPG co-chair Ruth Cadbury, and chairman Sir Ed, Mr Thomson has since told the chancellor: “This pernicious legislation requires an immediate halt to all settlements until it has been properly scrutinised, assessed and debated.

“Anything less would be a failing on behalf of a government intent on ruining the livelihoods and bankrupting a vast number of hard-working contributors to the UK’s services economy.”

The appeal to Mr Hammond comes after a new poll by the APPG shows that out of 1,768 respondents, 60 individuals made a “direct or strongly implied statement” that they intended to end their own life to spare themselves or their family from the financial pain imposed by the HMRC charge.

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