The Public Accounts Committee was shocked to find HMRC had used anti-terror laws to investigate a whistleblower from within HMRC. In Parliament this week the Committee questioned HMRC about an ex-HMRC employee who blew the whistle to the Committee itself about a special tax deal given to a big financial institution. The Committee was shocked to find HMRC had used the Regulation of Investigatory powers Act (RIPA) to examine not only that person’s computer, emails, and telephone but family too. The Chair said RIPA was aimed at terrorism, but they got nowhere when asking HMRC for an assurance not to use again it on another whistleblower. This despite the Committee saying HMRC had hounded the whistleblower when they reported to that very Committee. As a tax barrister it’s difficult to know if HMRC or the Committee came out worse. In a very few national security cases RIPA might have a use, if well supervised. But since Parliament also gave out RIPA powers to all sorts of organisations those powers have been abused. There have been so many cases of RIPA abuse, from the local council spying on dog walkers or a pensioner putting out their bins, making money from fines, right on up to national organisations. Tax fans will be hard pushed to know which is worse: HMRC hounding a person who, in the national interest, blew the whistle to a Parliamentary Committee or the Committee itself for not protecting it’s own witness.
Tax Barrister, Accountant