It appears that HMRC has hatched yet another plan to frustrate us: Mr Taxman is looking to sell off our anonymised tax data to private firms. Hot on the heels of the now delayed plans for an NHS database that would place all our medical files online, HMRC seems to have surpassed even itself this time round.
A HMRC spokesman has said that they would only “share data where this would generate clear public benefits, and where there are robust safeguards in place.” It goes on in a similar fashion, stating that anyone accessing data would be subject to the same “confidentiality” provisions as HMRC staff, including a “criminal sanction” for unlawful disclosure of taxpayer information. If given the go-ahead, the plan would allow HMRC to release the data to third parties including companies, researchers and public bodies.
I agree totally with former Conservative minister David Davis who has labelled the plans “borderline insane.” They are really another example of HMRC ineptitude; but, worse still, they are right up there with the shelved plans to put our medical data online. The Care.data initiative is currently suspended after fears were raised as to exactly what information would remain anonymous.
While HMRC has said it is committed to confidentiality, I am more than a little sceptical. It defies logic that we would remove any restraints at a time when data can be collected in huge amounts and can travel round the globe in a matter of milliseconds. One would have hoped that HMRC would have learned that trying to sneak plans like this under the radar is not the way to build trust or develop good policy. The officials who drew this up clearly have no idea of the risks to data in an electronic age. What’s more, HMRC records are woefully inaccurate, so is the data they provide going to be of any real use?
The sale of tax data would have to be subject to the high level of rigour and scrutiny that are simply not the hallmarks of how HMRC has tended to operate. There is no logic in flogging highly confidential information; and it has the potential to pose a major threat to the confidentiality of our nation’s tax affairs. Why isn’t Mr Taxman seeking to put his own house in order first before playing fast and loose with extremely confidential data? It really does beggar belief; and I truly hope that these plans are consigned to the scrap heap as soon as possible.