Cast iron safeguards essential if MPs cave in to new proposals
HMRC's attempts to extend its powers to allow it to raid people's bank accounts risk being unconstitutional, says global accountancy body ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants).
ACCA says that the prospect of HMRC, part of the executive arm of government, coaxing MPs to enact provisions which effectively bypass the courts, that currently protect the public, is deeply concerning.
Chas Roy-Chowdhury, head of taxation at ACCA, said: "These new powers are knocking at the door of being unconstitutional. The existing safeguards in recovery of tax debts protects taxpayers by ensuring the activities of HMRC are subject to review by the courts prior to enforcement. HMRC's proposed powers effectively throw that principle out the window. It will mean HMRC can take a "smash and grab" approach by delving into someone's bank account at will and taking their money.
"You can't blame HMRC for looking at more economical options if the full cost of securing a county court judgment under the current system is too great. If we are going to have these powers imposed, then some other form of review by an officer of the court should be considered as a part of the safeguards in any power to access bank accounts.
"If HMRC gets the power to access private bank accounts with no judicial supervision then it must be used only where all appeal rights have been exhausted. Safeguards must be incorporated and demonstrably implemented to ensure that no further examples can arise of HMRC withdrawing funds from UK taxpayer's accounts without their knowledge or consent. HMRC must only have the narrowest of opportunities to use such a power so that it is only ever used on those who continually refuse to pay and yet can afford to. The powers must not be used on those who can't pay due to financial difficulties, such as families on low incomes or the self-employed."
ACCA has said it will work with HMRC to ensure stringent safeguards are put in place should this unpopular tax power come into force.