Law joins outcry over HMRC’s proposed powers

The Law Society has become the latest organisation to criticise plans that would allow allow HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to seize money directly from the bank accounts of those it suspects of tax evasion.

The Society branded the debt recovery proposals as “draconian and regressive”, with a spokesman saying that lawyers feared the taxman had not demonstrated any need for additional powers but would “press on regardless”.

He added that while the Society agrees that overdue tax must be paid, it believes that HMRC’s existing powers, if properly used, are sufficient, as there are already streamlined procedures for recovery of tax due in UK courts.

Moreover, the Society is concerned that the direct recovery of debt from bank accounts without judicial supervision may not comply with data protection or human rights legislation.

Meanwhile, the Building Society Association is concerned that people may revert to hiding their cash “under the mattress” if they fear that their money is not safe in their bank or building society accounts.

However, HMRC has argued that its plans would only affect a “small core” of around 17,000 people a year who typically owe £5,800 in tax and tax credit debts and added that the cash would not be taken under the plans unless it still leaves the debtor with at least £5,000 across all their accounts.

Meanwhile, in cases where someone who owes nothing to the taxman but shares a joint account with someone who does, the department would recover debt from up to half the funds in the joint account.

Following the increasing outcry over the plans, however, a spokesman for the Association of Chartered Accountants (ACCA) said that the Treasury should take heed of the growing concerns over the moves.

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Nigel is the Managing Partner and Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution in the London office of Mackrell Turner Garrett.