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Tax campaigners have raised concerns that safeguards for taxpayers from whose bank accounts HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) wishes to directly take money are not “watertight”.
The Summer Finance Bill 2015, published on 15 July, includes measures to give HMRC the power to seize money directly from the bank and building society accounts of tax debtors, known as direct recovery of debts or DRD.
Money will only be taken where an individual or business will be left with at least £5,000 and there are other safeguards to protect taxpayers. These include HMRC only seeking to recover debts in this way after a face-to-face meeting with the debtor, at which other options for settling the debt can be explored, and that the new power will not be used in cases involving vulnerable debtors.
But a report prepared for the TaxPayers’ Alliance tax reform campaign group raised a number of concerns about the legislation and the organisation warned: “Many of the ‘protections’ in place for taxpayers are not as watertight as they seem.
“In particular, HMRC promise face-to-face meetings with agents. However, this does not appear in the original draft legislation, and is merely included in the non-binding explanatory note to the draft clauses.”
The TaxPayers’ Alliance also raised concerns over the use of HMRC hold notices, which it said would freeze all but £5,000 of an individual’s assets if it “appears” that there is a debt to HMRC.
It said: “‘Hold notices’… could leave individual taxpayers unable to meet their outgoings over a long period of time. It is hardly unknown for HMRC to make administrative errors, and if this occurs the lack of obligation on HMRC to answer appeals in a timely fashion could leave individuals struggling to pay the bills.
“Companies are treated as individuals in British law, and as such an administrative error by HMRC leading to a hold notice could put a firm in serious danger of insolvency through no fault of its own.”