Urgently review loan charge now suicide helpline is shut, Treasury's Lucy Frazer urged

Lucy Frazer, the new financial secretary to the Treasury, is being “implored” to correct the wrong approach taken by the government to contractors affected by HMRC’s Loan Charge.

In a letter to Jesse Norman’s successor, Ms Frazer, a former QC, is asked by its author LCAG to “look afresh” at the HMRC policy which has led to the suicides of seven people, the group says.

Previously a commercial lawyer, the 49-year-old is told it means her deviating from the stance of her “two predecessors” (Mr Norman and Mel Stride), and instead backing the new chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke.

'Change course'

Each appointed to HM Treasury last month, Ms Frazer is reminded in the letter that fellow Tory MP Mr Clarke has already recognised the charge’s unfairness by co-signing two letters to ministers.

Should her boss’s two prior objections to the charge fail to convince her to “change course” on the HMRC policy “debacle,” the hope is that her understanding of the rule of law won’t.

The Loan Charge Action Group’s Steve Packham, who co-signed the letter to the new Treasury minister with LCAG director Andrew Earnshaw, explained to ContractorUK:   

'HMRC mouthpiece'

“We urge [Ms Frazer] to actually genuinely look at the loan charge rather than doing as her predecessors have done and acting simply as a mouthpiece for an out-of-control HMRC.

“As a senior lawyer, she should be deeply troubled at the way the loan charge undermines the rule of law, as so many MPs have pointed out.”

The appeal to the new minister follows an open letter to Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak (which calls either of them to intervene on the loan charge), attracting is 134th MP signatory.

'Helpline volunteers are stopping'

But more urgently for both the prime minister and chancellor, a suicide-prevention phoneline for people affected by the charge has had to close, after operating 24hrs a day for three years.

The helpline was only set up because despite an MP recommending to HMRC that it should set up a facility for taxpayers considering taking their own life due to its policy, the department refused.

“Why the volunteers are stopping [is] very simple,” said an LCAG spokesman, responding to ContractorUK. “Their own mental health and wellbeing, and that of their own families.

“They all face -- or have faced --the Loan Charge too and have been taking these calls, some which can be very lengthy, day and night for the last three years.

“The toll of this, alongside in most cases full time jobs is too much. They have been quietly heroic and a number of callers have said that the call stopped them committing suicide.”

'Face up to the reality'

In the letter she received last week, Ms Frazer is told that droves of ordinary workers including nurses, teachers and IT contractors cannot afford the sums of money being demanded by HMRC for using tax arrangements which they were told, at the time, were legal.

“There is an urgent need for the government to face up to the reality of the loan charge on what will happen if HMRC enforce it,” warns Mr Packham

“Both the Treasury and HMRC know full well that proceeding without change will lead to devastating consequences, with a very real possibility of further suicides. [So ] this is a chance for Lucy Frazer and the government to show both some compassion, and some common sense”.

'HMRC harassment'

Last night, LCAG advised that people faced with anguish caused by the loan charge, or by “HMRC harassment” should contact their own MP at their local constituency office.

But the volunteer-run group also said individuals who feel suicidal relating to the loan charge should, from now on, call the Samaritans (116 123), or the National Suicide Prevention Helpline (0800 689 5652).

At the time of writing, HMRC only operates a telephone line for disguised remuneration customers on 0300 322 9494, but its stated purpose is not to advise or support the distressed.

“If you think you’ll have difficulty paying the liabilities due, there are options available to make paying the loan charge more manageable,” HMRC says. “If you’re unable to pay in full and need a payment plan, contact [us on] the…helpline.” 

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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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