Recently in HMRC tax record special categories Category

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 ?


The Information Commissioner has now issued a Decision Notice FS50216168 dated 25th January 2010::

6. The complainant wrote to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on 28 January 2008 requesting information about the tax categories of individuals for whom security is a higher priority.

'Regarding the story in the Daily Telegraph newspaper of Saturday 26 January 2008 about the security, privacy and confidentiality of tax returns and the Parliamentary Oral Answer given by the Financial Secretary to HM Treasury

'Regarding the story in the Daily Telegraph newspaper of Saturday 26 January 2008 about the security, privacy and confidentiality of tax returns and the Parliamentary Oral Answer given by the Financial Secretary to HM Treasury

1) Please list these special "categories of individual for whom security is a higher priority"
2) Approximately how many people are in each special category?
3)Who exactly makes the decision to to put someone into one of these special categories ?
4) When, if ever, is an individual removed from such a special category?
5) Does a special category extend to an individual's family as well?
6) How long has this policy of special categories been in place ?
7) Who exactly authorised this special category policy?
8) How exactly does adding an extra digit to a tax code or other special markings to a paper tax return, make it less of a target for human snooping or electronic sniffing of the data once it is in digital form? Surely this contravenes the well established security principles for handling 'sensitive' data whilst it is sharing common office or electronic network infrastructure ie that it should be indistinguishable from the rest of the data or documents, to reduce the temptation to casual snoopers ?
9) What about the previous 24 year tax record history of an individual before they become a 'celebrity' or politician etc?
10) Are these special category tax records included in the datasets handed over, through the statutory gateway, to the DWP Longitudinal Study? http://www.dwp.gov.uk/asd/longitudinal_study/ic_longitudinal_study.asp
11) What is the approximate annual cost of the extra infrastructure and personnel resources needed to handle these special categories?'

This has resulted in:

The Decision

91. The Commissioner's decision is that the public authority did not deal with the request for information in accordance with the Act:
• it breached section 1 (1 )(b) by not providing the complainant with the requested information wrongly withheld under sections 36 and 38;
• it breached section 10(1) by not confirming to the complainant within the statutory timescale that it held the requested information;
• it breached section 10(1) by not providing the complainant with information within the statutory timescale;
• it breached section 17(1) by not providing the complainant with a valid refusal notice within the statutory timescale; and
• it breached section 17(1)(b) and (c) by failing to specify and explain exemptions it later relied on.

Steps Required


92 The Commissioner requires the public authority to take the following steps to ensure compliance with the Act:

• disclose the list of special categories not exempt by virtue of section 23 or 44;
• disclose the number of people in each special category not exempt by virtue of section 23 or 44:
• disclose the name of the decision maker who makes the decision to put someone in one of the special categories; and
• disclose the information withheld in relation to questions 4, 5 and 9.

93. The public authority must take the steps required by this notice within 35 calendar days of the date of this notice.

Will Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs disclose the requested information,as ordered to by the Information Commissioner, or will they waste public money and our time, by trying to appeal ?

From: [generic email address]@ico.gsi.gov.uk
To: [email address]
Date: Mon, 27 Jul 2009 16:11:45 +0100

27th July 2009

CASE REFERENCE NUMBER FS5021nnnn

Dear XXX

Further to our previous correspondence regarding your complaint against HMRC I am writing to inform you that your case has now been allocated to me to investigate. I apologise for the delay that has occurred in allocating the case.

The original complaint to he Information Commissioner's Office was made on 29th September 2008 i.e. 301 days or nearly 10 months ago.

The original FOIA request was made on 29th of January 2008. - see: HMRC tax record special categories - initial FOIA request i.e. nearly 16 18 months ago.

Where possible the Information Commissioner prefers complaints to be resolved by informal means where he deems this appropriate. If this does not prove to be possible, he will usually issue a Decision Notice to you and the public authority once an investigation has been completed. This will inform you of his decision and the reasons for it.

Where the Commissioner decides that a request has not been handled properly he may specify what steps he believes are necessary to remedy the situation. This can include requiring a public authority to release information which has previously been withheld. A copy of the Decision Notice will be placed on our website (with your details omitted). If you disagree with the decision that has been reached you have a legal right of appeal to the Information Tribunal.

YOUR REQUEST

On 28 January 2008 you requested information concerning HMRC tax
record Special Categories.

On 6 March 2008, HMRC answered some of your questions and provided a "not held" response in relation to some of the information, but withheld the rest under sections 23, 36(2)(c)and 38(1)(a) and (b) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 ("the Act").

HMRC upheld its decision in an internal review which was sent to you on 29 September 2008. You contacted the Commissioner on 29 September 2008 to object to the decision to withhold information under these exemptions. You also brought to the attention of the Commissioner the delays you experienced while HMRC dealt with your request and internal review.

THE SCOPE OF THE CASE

The focus of my investigation will be to determine whether or not HMRC was correct in applying the exemptions with regard to your request for information. During the course of my investigation, I will also consider the timeliness with which HMRC handled your
request.

Please contact me as soon as possible if there are matters other than these that you believe should be addressed. This will help avoid any unnecessary delay in investigating your complaint. If I do not hear from you, my investigation will focus only upon the matters
identified above.

Yours sincerely,

[name of ICO official]

Senior Complaints Officer

FOI Team 2 - Police, Justice and Taxation

The ICO has at last allocated an official Number to our complaint about our HMRC tax record special categories FOIA request, submitted to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs back in January 2008.

Incredibly. it appears that HMRC still has not yet sorted out an online self assessment system via the Government Gateway, for people in these secret "special categories", nearly a year after the matter was first raised by a Member of Parliament.

One person who seems to be still suffering from this is the politically dissident former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray.

Online Again

[...]

I have received a very curt letter from the Inland Revenue saying that, unless they receive my tax return for 2006/7 by tomorrow, they will start to charge me £60 per day fine. I would love to give them my tax return, but self-assessment returns are now only accepted online. But when I give them my Government gateway number, my Unique Tax Reference number, and my National Insurance number, the system still refuses to accept my existence.

This has been going on ever since I left the FCO. But in previous tax years you had the alternative of filling in a paper form, so I just did that. This option has been withdrawn.

I have called the Inland Revenue helpdesk on many occasions about this over the last four years, and they have told me that it is because I used to work for the FCO. Certain members of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are blocked from online returns for security reasons (I cannot begin to imagine what). I point out it is four years now since I worked for them, but nothing happens.

In the meantime my tax for 2006/7 has been "assessed" - ie guessed - and I have paid the assessment in full. It is no secret that I am now a strugglling writer with, frankly, very little income. I am quite astonished at the effort they put into harassing me, especially when their system won't let me in to complete the form.

HM Revenue and Customs have at last, after 6 months, sent their Internal Review of their decision not to reveal any details about the special categories of people who allegedly get extra security for their tax records - a completely unacceptable 2 tier system - why isn't everyone's tax record given this "special category" protection from internal HMRC staff who may be tempted or corrupted to snoop ?.

The Request for an Internal Review - March 2008:

HMRC tax record special categories - request for FOIA Internal Review

The original FOIA request was sent at the end of January 2008:

See HMRC response to FOIA request for general details of the Special Categories of tax returns of Celebrities and VIPs etc.

Unsurprisingly the HMRC Internal Review does not rule in favour of disclosure.

HMRC did answer ("outside the terms of the Act") one of the additional points put to them when requesting the Review, namely how vulnerable people e.g. victims of domestic violence are meant to know that their tax records could be "protected" in a "special category", but they fail to say what the eligibility criteria are, or how one can check if this is actually being done properly.

The Information Commissioner's Office guidelines state that a Freedom of Information Act Internal Reviews, even in the most complicated cases, should not take more than 6 weeks, so the 6 month delay by HMRC is either due to incompetence or political manipulation.

This delaying tactic prevents an FOIA requestor from complaining to the Information Commissioner's Office, until the Internal Review by the Government Department has been completed.

Since the HMRC Internal Review process is now exhausted, we are forced to add to the Queue of FOIA Complaints at the Information Commissioner's Office.

The text of our Request for a Freedom of Information Act 2000 Internal Revue, to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, in response to:

HMRC response to FOIA request for general details of the Special Categories of tax returns of Celebrities and VIPs etc.

Text of our email Internal Review Request:

We have had a response and a very partial disclosure by her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, to our sent by email and via a web form on 28th January 2008 i.e. a substantive response in 28 working days, which is technically in contravention of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which specifies 20 working days, without exception
.
This is still a substantially better FOIA response performance than , for example the Home Office, although HMRC do not make it easy to find the appropriate contact page on their website, which requires a search engine query rather than a link from the home page, to find
http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/about/foi.htm

The actual response below, addresses all of the 11 numbered Questions which were asked, each to a lesser or non-existent degree.

HMRC are pretending that the request was for individually identifiable information, when it was only asked for high level, general categories of supposed VIPs and alleged Celebrities, who are being given special treatment regarding their income and perhaps corporation and value added tax returns. This situation was highlighted by the inability of Members of Parliament to file their tax returns to HMRC over the Government Gateway web page.

See HMRC tax record security only for a minority of the privileged, but not for the rest of us

Almost no information has been disclosed, in response to this request, except

10) Are these special category tax records included in the datasets handed over, through the statutory gateway, to the DWP Longitudinal Study? http://www.dwp.gov.uk/asd/longitudinal_study/ic_longitudinal_study.asp

[...]
Item 10): No, the data is not included in transfers.

Apparently "two Commissioners of HM Revenue and Customs have considered your request "

HMRC does not know neither who authorised the policy on Special categories in the first place, nor how long it has actually been in place, nor how much it costs to handle these Special Categories of tax returns.

How do they know that they are actually complying with the original Policy on Special Categories ? How can the public be re-assured that this Policy has not deteriorated into wasteful bureaucratic red tape, and function creep, and is now being applied to far more people than it was originally intended ?

How can the public be re-assured that people at risk who should be given more security to protect their identity and address details, are actually being included in the HMRC Special Categories at all ? e.g. are all the battered wives who have fled their violent partners being given the same protection as MPs or celebrities > If so, then who informs the HMRC of their "at risk" status ?

This FOIA response is also another example of a Government Department or public body trying to claim an exemption under "Health & Safety", which has got nothing to do with anything which comes under actual Health and Safety laws or regulations, no personal details are being requested.

Should we ask for an Internal Review ?

HMRC tax record special categories - initial FOIA request

The HM Revenue & Customs website is not easy to navigate, if you are looking for how to submit a Freedom of Information Act Request - they really must do better.

There is an FOIA page which can only be found after using the search facility,

However, it appears, that two and a bit years on from the supposedly seamless merger between the former Inland Revenue and the Customs & Excise departments, there is still no consolidated Freedom of Information Act Publication Scheme.

Freedom of Information Act 2000 HM Revenue & Customs Publication Scheme

There is a strange, unfriendly (no Preview, just Submit) online comments form, which appears to email a "Michael Armstrong", rather than a generic FOIA request response team (you need to click on the "Michael Armstrong "link itself, rather than otherwise you get an error message)

There also seems to be a legacy email address for Inland Revenue FOIA requests, which may or may not work.

ccp.disclosure@ir.gsi.gov.uk

Our FOIA request below, asks some Questions about the discriminatory, and possibly counterproductive practice of having specially marked categories of tax codes and tax returns, supposedly only for Westminster politicians and celebrities, but not for the rest of us, or even for people whose lives would be genuinely at risk if their home address details were revealed..

See HMRC tax record security only for a minority of the privileged, but not for the rest of us

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