HMRC boss savaged over 'aggressive' Loan Charge tiger graphic

The top taxman has been urged to clarify HMRC’s conduct, approach and communications on Loan Charge 2019, amid evidence each are “starkly different” to what ministers believe.

Sir Jon Thompson, HMRC’s CEO, is also asked in a letter by MPs why, internally, the Revenue is using a “threatening” image of a tiger on its Disguised Remuneration materials.

Mr Thompson is further asked about a strapline ‘Make it Real’ -- seemingly a call to action to DR officials and, at the other end; below the tiger’s head, in bold capitals, ‘Tiger’s Roar.’

'Snarling'

“Despite HMRC knowing of Loan Charge suicides,” tweeted the letter’s author the Loan Charge APPG, “the only concern expressed by HMRC about the snarling tiger… has been about a photo circulated [showing] a member of staff.”

Mr Thompson now has the opportunity to express more than just privacy concerns, as he is posed four questions about use of the tiger; its purpose and appropriateness.

Question four seems to the bite the hardest: “In the light of the anxiety and stress faced by many thousands affected by the Loan Charge and the fact that there have been linked suicides of people facing this legislation, do you think it is appropriate to have used a slogan ‘Make it Real’ and an image of a snarling tiger and the phrase ‘Tiger’s Roar’?”

'Aggressive'

The letter adds: “We hope and expect you will now fully and properly answer these questions and deal with our concerns about the use of aggressive slogans and imagery with regard to the pursuit of people, including vulnerable people.  

“This is especially relevant given the known suicides of people facing the Loan Charge, in particular where, in the evidence we have seen, the pursuit by HMRC was a direct factor in at least one case.”

At the very least, there appears to be a disconnect between what the Treasury said last week – that ‘HMRC is taking careful steps to ensure its protects and supports’ taxpayers, and that protector being a snarling tiger.

'Coerce'

It is far from the only disconnect that Mr Thompson has now been alerted to. “Despite public assurances from…ministers, HMRC are telling people they may have to sell their home,” the Loan Charge APPG tells him.

“The evidence [also] shows…that ‘settlement’ is not voluntary: HMRC uses the threat of the Loan Charge to coerce people into settling.

“[And our] evidence demonstrates the aggressive and unreasonable nature of HMRC’s behaviour [as] we have been given examples of people waiting for months to receive replies to queries from HMRC, and then being given a matter of days to settle disputed tax or be threatened with the Loan Charge.”

'Utterly unreasonable'

Rhys Thomas, of tax dispute firm WTT Consulting, made a similar disclosure to ContractorUK this week, saying one of the firm’s clients has not received a reply from HMRC for four-and-a-half months.

“Far from offering affordable settlements,” the APPG letter to Mr Thompson continues, referring to HMRC saying it offers “manageable” payment plans, “we have seen numerous examples of utterly unreasonable demands and suggested monthly payments.

“There are cases where, despite knowing the income of an individual, HMRC are seeking a greater monthly payment than the person’s entire monthly income.”

'HMRC misinformation'

Sir Ed Davey, chair of the APPG, alongside co-chairs and fellow MPs Ross Thomson and Ruth Cadbury, all of whom have signed the letter; add: “There is no evidence we have seen that HMRC are being sympathetic, nor that they are prepared to agree to reasonable (and lower) total repayments, as any reputable creditor would offer to people who are struggling to pay.”

Whether the trio receive a reply remains to be seen, however. They conclude to Mr Thompson: “We are surprised you have not replied to our important letter about HMRC misinformation of April 2nd, over three months ago.

“This is an unusually long time to formulate a response. We trust you will respond properly to that letter soon, as well as (separately) replying to this one.”

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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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