HMRC data sharing plans may infringe civil liberties - LITRG Press Release

Published on 4 October 2013

The LITRG has responded with concern to HMRC proposals to increase their scope to publish or share more widely the information they hold.

LITRG supports proposals to publish more data externally about HMRC’s activities (for example on services, budget costs, functions and performance). However, the Group believes there is insufficient evidence and research that the publication of individual-level data, even after efforts have been made to anonymise it, would provide any clear benefit. LITRG is therefore encouraging the retention of the current legislative structure with a more rapid administration process and sharing of HMRC data with other government departments and public bodies only where the case for this is specifically proved. Sharing of data between HMRC and other specific departments and organisations such as the Department for Work and Pensions (especially now with the emergence of Real Time Information and Universal Credit), Student Loans Company and Child Maintenance Enforcement Commissioners is already provided for in legislation and can and should be used as much for the benefit of the taxpayer as for compliance purposes.

LITRG’s Chairman, Anthony Thomas, said:

“The advent of social media has resulted in a huge increase in the volume of personal data in the public domain; publication does though remain a personal choice distinct from the information an individual is legally required to provide to the Government, which can then release the data without consent.

“Taxpayers trust HMRC to make proper use of their personal information, and this trust could be seriously undermined if HMRC share the data with others (particularly outside HMRC) or use the data in ways that are not made clear to taxpayers, and for which their consent has not been sought. A breakdown of that fundamental trust could lead to otherwise compliant taxpayers withholding their personal data.

“As a charity, we are primarily concerned with the most vulnerable taxpayers in society. In this vein we are particularly concerned about the proposal to share public data digitally. Many individuals are digitally excluded and would be unable to view such data; it is crucial that robust safeguards are provided for them should this proposal be endorsed.

“We are encouraged by the success of the ‘Tell us Once’ project and feel yet more could be done, such as an expansion to include other life events, but always taking great care not to make confidential or sensitive information any more widely available than consented to by the citizen. We would encourage a sharing of data between departments where there is a clear benefit to the citizen but always with the correct safeguards in place and mitigation should things go wrong.”

‘Tell Us Once’ is a government initiative which allows individuals to report a birth or death to multiple government organisations at the same time. More information can be found here.

HMRC’s Consultation, Sharing and publishing data for public benefit, can be viewed here.

The full response to the Consultation of the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group can be viewed here.