IOPC fails to investigate a single one of the ten loan charge contractor suicides

Not a single one of the ten loan charge contractor suicides referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct has been investigated by the police watchdog, ContractorUK can reveal.

HMRC made its first referral to the IOPC in March 2019, following the first case of a taxpayer who had used a disguised remuneration scheme tragically taking their own life.

Nine further referrals by the Revenue to the watchdog followed, because nine additional taxpayers who also faced the tax authority’s loan charge policy went onto kill themselves.

But in all ten cases, the IOPC decided not to independently undertake any sort of formal investigation despite the ten losses of life, choosing instead to refer all ten back to HMRC.

'Marking its own homework'

Letting HMRC probe the systems, processes and personnel it had in place for a taxpayer who went onto kill themselves has been condemned as HMRC, ‘marking its own homework.’

Nonetheless, a spokesperson for HMRC admitted that this widely-perceived shortcoming -- which was flagged up upon the first taxpayer suicide -- reoccurred nine times.

“IOPC has the option to undertake the investigation themselves, if appropriate. They have not done so in any of the ten cases HMRC referred to them,” an HMRC spokesperson told ContractorUK.

Presented with the admission, campaigner LCAG said it proved that “the system of investigating state-caused suicides is ignoring this obvious truth and failing victims -- and their families.”

'Ten suicides, all linked to same legislation and its HMRC enforcement'

Also shown HMRC’s statement, the Loan Charge & Taxpayer Fairness APPG yesterday said it would write to the IOPC with urgent questions about its failure to investigate.

“Why [has] the IOPC…not investigated any of these suicides, especially when there have now been ten of them, all linked to the same legislation and HMRC’s enforcement of it?”

Sitting on the cross-party parliamentary group, MPs will go onto say in their letter to the police watchdog (a draft of which has been obtained by ContractorUK):

“We can therefore only conclude that the IOPC (and subsequently HMRC, in their internal investigation) are not looking at the reality of why these ten people have taken their own lives and are instead only ‘on procedure.’”

'Key question'

The MPs, notably the Conservatives’ Greg Smith; the Liberal Democrats’ Baroness Kramer and the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, are concerned about the quality of the investigations which determined that fuller investigations were not warranted.

On behalf of the APPG, the three MPs believe that a “key question” is whether ‘investigators’ approached the spouses/partners, other close family members, and tax advisers of the ten deceased HMRC customers.

But Keith Gordon, a barrister at Temple Tax Chambers believes that the MPs should call for more than just answers to their questions.

'Full review'

Mr Gordon told ContractorUK: “The loan charge has identified countless problems with how tax policy is formulated and implemented in this country. 

“On its own, it is sufficient to create a sense of mistrust between citizens and the state. However, once the policy is known to contribute to a taxpayer taking his own life, it must surely be appropriate to subject the policy to a full review.” 

As nine further individuals caught by the same HMRC framework subsequently committed suicide, the barrister is at a loss to explain how ministers sleep at night.

“Given that ten taxpayers subject to the loan charge are now known to have taken their own lives, the idea that anyone in government can carry on as normal is simply incomprehensible,” Mr Gordon said.

'No evidence of misconduct'

According to HMRC, “any” cause of taxpayer death is “for a coroner to decide,” and in the tax department’s eight internal investigations, “no evidence of misconduct” by any HMRC officers was found.

Two investigations by HMRC into its own officials are currently yet to conclude, with no word available on what the hold-up is, or when they might conclude.

HMRC would only say that both internal investigations are, “following the agreed process.”

In their letter to the IOPC, the MPs will describe the link between the loan charge and the ten taxpayers taking their own lives as “undeniable.”

'Several attempted suicides since tenth HMRC referral to IOPC'

At the Loan Charge Action Group (LCAG), spokesperson Steve Packham reflected: “HMRC knows full well that unaffordable demands and the way they criminalise people are pushing people to suicide.

“[In fact we] are aware of several attempted suicides [since the tenth referral to the IOPC].”

The Loan Charge and Taxpayer Fairness APPG confirmed in a tweet on Feb 10th: “Since HMRC announced the tenth loan charge suicide, we have received a number of emails from distressed individuals, some reporting suicidal thoughts. A resolution is desperately needed.”

'Action should be taken'

Taking to LinkedIn since the tenth scheme user died by their own hand, but posting about HMRC ‘naming and shaming’ avoidance schemes, Bishopsgate Group managing director Luke Shannon-Little urged:

“Action should be taken against the companies that offer these avoidance schemes.

“If HMRC knows there is a bill to pay by the contractor they also know how and who paid them. These schemes are…immoral and dangerous. We don't need any more reasons as to why the umbrella industry should be regulated -- but here is another very tragic one.”

'Gross negligence'

Trying to muster up the right words, LCAG’s Mr Packham said he finds the “callous” actions of HMRC and Treasury “shocking”, given ten deceased taxpayers and their grieving families now lie in the loan charge’s wake.

“The Treasury and HMRC have been warned again and again about the serious suicide risk, yet continue to ignore this and continue to try to justify their approach,” he said.

“Surely this is gross negligence. And it’s high time that we finally saw some compassion, an admission that the loan charge has taken lives and most importantly, a different approach.”

'IOPC failing to address this'

The spokesperson for HMRC said: “HMRC has referred cases to the IOPC where a customer has sadly taken their life and had used a disguised remuneration scheme. HMRC has undertaken an investigation in all 10 cases, following [ten] decisions [not to investigate] from the IOPC.”

In their letter to the police watchdog, addressed to IOPC’s interim director-general Tom Whiting, the MPs will say: “We are writing… to raise with you the ten confirmed suicides of people facing the loan charge and associated HMRC action and to express our serious at the way the system, including the IOPC, is failing to address this.”

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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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