Documents published online have revealed HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) plans to secretly access bank account information.
The planned new powers come in the form of information orders, which are used by the Revenue to determine that taxpayers are paying the correct amounts of Income Tax, Corporation Tax, Capital Gains Tax and VAT.
Banks, building societies, accountants, lawyers and estate agents can all be ordered to divulge financially sensitive information.
These groups are currently able to notify their clients if HMRC requests access to this information, but would not be able to under the new plans.
HMRC can only make such a demand with the permission of a Tribunal if a taxpayer refuses access to the information, but officials are calling to have this relaxed so that only secretly accessed accounts would need Tribunal approval.
James Daley, the Managing Director of Fairer Finance, said: “The system we have got contains essential protections for taxpayers’ privacy and rights. The idea that HMRC can request information from people’s banks, from estate agents and other third parties without notifying the individual is shocking.
“They are bypassing checks and balances that are there to protect people. Of course we want to crack down on people who aren’t paying their taxes, but there has to be a balance between that and breaching privacy. This can’t be a lazy shortcut for the taxman.”
A spokesman for HMRC said: “We are simply consulting on updating existing powers to obtain account information to help establish the right tax has been declared.
“Nothing has been decided. If these powers became law, we expect they would only apply to a few hundred cases each year and of course there will be safeguards in place to protect taxpayers.”