HMRC's bonfire of statistics

01 November 2022
There is no doubt that it takes a lot of time to draft HMRC’s statistics, and it is sensible to consider the best use of the precious resources available after years of civil service staff cuts. For all the work put in, some of the data produced has little or no practical value. 

That said, HMRC has been following a programme of statistics improvement for some years already following recommendations from the Office for Statistics Regulation, including a reduction in the number and size of HMRC statistics publications, so it is not obvious why a new initiative is needed now. 

Unfortunately, the timing of this latest consultation could not be worse. After weeks of tax policy U-turns, the public and politicians alike would benefit from greater transparency from HMRC. Instead HMRC is proposing to withdraw certain statistics relating to income tax at a time when millions of taxpayers are sucked into higher tax brackets during a cost-of-living crisis. 

Many of the statistics that HMRC plan to remove really do have limited relevance today: it has not been possible to take out retirement annuity contracts since 1988, so annual statistics on them cater to a very niche audience. However, public access to data is an essential feature of a democracy and is necessary to allow voters to hold governments to account. Our worry is that this new announcement could provide camouflage for reducing transparency at a time when the size and composition of tax revenues needs more rather than less public scrutiny.

Ordinary taxpayers are unlikely to take part in an HMRC consultation. Instead, the public rely on professional bodies to advocate on their behalf. We urge HMRC to fully engage with stakeholders before deciding what information is no longer relevant to the public.