March 2010 Archives

Some progress at last, "only" 2 years after the original Freedom of Information Act 2000 request made back on 28th January 2008:

Subject: Your Freedom of Information Request 1075/08
From: [name of HMRC official] [name]@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk
To: [email]
Date: Mon, 01 Mar 2010 18:07:13 +0100

<< Information to be disclosed.pdf >>

Dear [name]

I am writing with reference to your Freedom of Information request and the Information Commissioner's Decision Notice issued on 25 January 2010. In accordance with Paragraph 92 of that Notice, I attach the information which HMRC is required to disclose to you. In order to provide some additional clarification and context, HMRC has added some text in square brackets to the information. With regard to the information disclosed in response to question 9, it may help if I further clarify that the complete NIRS record is subject to restricted access for the period when an individual is in a special category but only the current tax records would be subject to restricted access for that same period. I hope this is helpful.

Yours sincerely

[name of HMRC official]

Here is the new disclosure, all of which could easily have been supplied in response to the original request i.e. in February 2008

Categories and Numbers, excluding those subject to the s23 exemption or the s44
exemption

As at April 2008

Class of individualNumber of records*
HMRC staff [for reasons of propriety]   95,000
Certain [e.g. criminal justice] investigators in Govt depts; certain members of the police and judiciary   25,600
Protected for personal reasons: eg transsexuals,Gender re-assigned cases, domestic abuse and witness protection cases   24,500
Ministers of the Crown, Elected representatives, researchers and certain former Elected representatives   8,120

* We believe that in the majority of cases the number of records will equate to the number of individuals in a category, but there is a small possibility that they may include more than one record for a few individuals.

3) Who exactly makes the decision to put someone into one of these special categories ?

Decisions are made by HMRC managers with a responsibility for handling records subject to additional safeguards, working within a policy framework agreed at Director General level. [The policy framework applies additional safeguards to HMRC staff records for reasons of propriety and to the records of those whose employment or personal circumstances warrant additional protection.]

This appears to be a new or amended policy, possibly as a result of this very FOIA request.

The original FOIA response in March 2008 plead ignorance, and did not seem to know who was currently in charge of the "Special Categories" policy:

"This is a long-established HMRC (and former Inland Revenue) practice and we do not hold recorded information about its origins. However, such a practice would have received authorisation at senior level."

4) When, if ever, is an individual removed from such a special category?

In summary when the risk that gave rise to additional safeguards ceases, for example, when an individual leaves a particular employment or their personal circumstances change.

Where an employee ceases to work for a special employer and takes up non-special employment he or she will lose their additional protection. Similarly where a vulnerable individual is no longer at an additional significant personal risk the protection of their record will be returned to the normal level of security. However, in addition to responding to individual changes of circumstances, particular employers or groups also need to be reviewed from time to time to decide whether they justify additional protection.

In the case of individuals at risk the head of SSD (Special Section D) [the HMRC manager with responsibility for the records] marks cases for b/f to review their status and whether they should continue to be restricted or returned to normal levels of security. B/f time determined on a case by case basis.

5) Does a special category extend to an individual's family as well?

Claims to tax credits are made jointly by couples who are married or living together. So if the circumstances of one of the partners warrant additional safeguards, it follows that the whole record will be subject to them. For other purposes, it would be rare for family members to be included although this might exceptionally happen in witness protection cases.

9) What about the previous 24 year tax record history of an individual, before they became a "celebrity" or politician etc?

Tax records are not retained for the period suggested.

That is unbelievable. The Department for Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study (WPLS) holds up to 24 (perhaps actually 25) years of data taken from tax (HMRC) and benefits (DWP) datasets, both full (with names and addresses) and semi- anonymised (without names and addresses).

See DWP-IR Longitudinal Study Ethics Committee etc

The most interesting nugget of information revealed in the original HMRC response (back in March 2008) to this FOIA request (January 2008), was that the "Special Category" tax records are not handed over to the Department for Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study (WPLS), implying that "Special Category" people are not subjected to the same anti-fraud measures which the 1 year WPLS data set (with names and addresses) is used for.

But in any event, the additional safeguards attach to the current tax record for the period for which the risk exists.

For National Insurance purposes, NIRs holds a full record of employments and pay and tax and provides more information about an individual. It follows therefore that the full National Insurance history is subject to restricted access if a case is regarded as sensitive.

[The records of "celebrities" are not protected by additional safeguards.]

Note that by far the largest group, larger than all the rest combined, to whom this "Special Category" status of extra "safeguards" for their tax records is accorded, are HMRC staff themselves !

What exactly does [for reasons of propriety] mean ?

Some possible further FOIA request questions:

  • Why are "researchers" of Elected Representatives given "special category" status". Presumably the context of the use of that term implies political or parliamentary "researchers", employed by Elected Representatives, presumably Members of Parliament (646 MPs) at the Westminster House of Commons, rather than, say, biomedical researchers who are targets for harassment or violence by animal extremists.

  • Does "Elected Representatives" include Members of the European Parliament (72 UK MEPs 741 in total), Members of the Scottish Parliament (129 MSPs), Assembly Members (60 AMs) of the National Assembly for Wales and the Members of the Legislative Assembly (108 MLAs) in Northern Ireland Assembly ? Does it also cover County, Local and Parish Council Elected Members ?

  • The figure of 8,120 seems very high for just current Elected representatives since the figure above add up to only 1684 (only 1015, if only UK MEPs are counted) and "certain former" Elected Representatives.

  • What about non-elected Representatives i.e. Members of the House of Lords ?

    The various Labour Lords who have been appointed as unelected, unaccountable Ministers, do seem to qualify.

  • Will HMRC reveal the list of "Special Employers", in general terms ?

  • It is noticeable that the vast majority of Military or Police or Prison Officer personnel are not given any "Special category" protection, even though their names, addresses and family details are of significant interest to terrorist and foreign intelligence agencies and serious organised criminal gangs etc.

  • Who is the current "head of SSD (Special Section D)", and what are his / her contact details ?

  • Is there a secure and confidential means of contacting Special Section D, without involving the main HMRC postal, telephone and internet infrastructure ?


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This United Kingdom based blog has been spawned from Spy Blog, and is meant to provide a place to track our Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests to United Kingdom Government and other Public Authorities.

If you have suggestions for other FOIA requests,  bearing in mind the large list of exemptions, then email them to us, or use the comments facility on this blog, and we will see  what we can do, without you yourself having to come under the direct scrutiny of  "Sir Humphrey Appleby" or his minions.

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