'Tell HMRC' - inconsistent anonymity for online whistle-blowing

10 August 2016

George Bull

Encouraging members of the public to report illegal activity is an important part of HMRC’s compliance drive and covers areas as diverse as:

  • benefit cheats;
  • business tax evasion;
  • alcohol or tobacco tax evasion; and
  • smuggling or immigration crime.

With a growing emphasis on the pay and work rights of individuals, we were therefore pleased to see the 8 August update of HMRC’s complaint form on its website. This can be used by individuals to report information about the national minimum wage, employment agencies, gang masters or working hours.

Clicking the link took us to a webpage which assured us that informants don’t have to give their name or any other details to complete the form. So far, so good.

We then tried to open the document only to find that this is yet another of those complex HMRC forms where you have to enter your first name, last name, national insurance number and date of birth to get beyond the first page. Failure to disclose all this personal information locks potential informants out of the system.

As many potential informants will feel vulnerable, fearful perhaps, anonymity would be welcomed by many to encourage contributions.

We tried to give the benefit of the doubt to HMRC by assuming that they require details of informants for two purposes. First to discourage false notifications and, second, to obtain further information from the informants if HMRC chooses to investigate a particular case.

We reasoned that, on this basis, all of the government disclosure forms would adopt the same approach. Far from it. Here is the result of our review of the HMRC website:

Type of disclosure Anonymous? 
Business tax evasion No
Benefits cheats Yes
Alcohol or tobacco tax evasion No
Smuggling or immigration time Yes
Pay and work rights  No

 

This is a cause for concern as it suggests that there’s no joined-up thinking in the way government departments develop and launch these disclosure forms. We asked HMRC for their views, but unfortunately nobody was available to speak with us.

If you would like any more information on this issue please get in touch with George Bull or your usual RSM contact.