Is HMRC transparent?
In common with other government departments, HM Revenue and Customs are charged with achieving greater transparency in order to deliver better value for money and enable the public to hold them to account. In response to HMRC’s draft plans, LITRG has called for less technical jargon, more detail and a commitment to ongoing review.
The Government wants the general public to trust it and the agencies which deliver public services, both at central and local government level. For this reason, moves are being made to publish more information – everything from the expenses of Members of Parliament to itemising how your local authority spends the council tax and business rates it collects for amounts over £500.
In this same vein, HMRC produced a business plan for 2011 to 2015 containing a ‘transparency' section, on which comments were invited up until 31 January 2011.
In response, we generally welcomed their plans, but made various points which we feel need to be addressed to achieve true transparency:
- Technical jargon should be avoided in order to make the published data accessible to all and to give the general public confidence in HMRC’s commitment to clarity.
- HMRC need to understand better the use others can make of published data and present it in a format which meets their needs.
- In some areas, the published plan lacked detail and we have suggested that more qualitative data should be included in some areas (not just quantitative information which may not be helpful in determining, for example, quality of service).
- Data will need to be broken down for equality purposes in such a way as will be required when the Public Sector Equality Duty comes into force in April 2011.
- We are opposed to the conflation by government departments of error and fraud, which are in fact two entirely separate concepts and the presumption (in HMRC’s case) that it is the individual who is at fault, rather than HMRC. In terms of transparency, it is therefore necessary to segregate them.
- In this regard, HMRC should publish data showing the amount of tax credits overpaid to claimants solely because of claimant error, and of credits overpaid and underpaid wholly or partly because of official error.
- This plan must be developed over time by HMRC committing themselves to ongoing review and improvement of the data they collect.
- All too often HMRC guidance Manuals published online withhold information, citing Freedom of Information Act exclusions. We would also like to see a review of this policy.
A link to our full response to the consultation is given below.
HMRC Transparency Consultation - LITRG response
Contact: Kelly Sizer (please use form at http://www.litrg.org.uk/ContactUs)