Data Protection Act and HMRC

As a tax agent you might have found it quite difficult trying to deal with subcontractors’ tax returns (those working in the Construction Industry Scheme) for the year ending on the 5th April 2008. The main reason behind this situation is the struggle of gathering all the relevant data in order to submit an accurate, complete and compliant tax return to HM Revenue & Customs.
In the past years we used to be able to ask the tax office for a so called ”captured voucher list” for our subcontractor clients quite easily. We cannot say this is happening this year, now when the construction scheme has changed and we need their help even more. According to the HMRC, excessive demands were placed before on their resources when requests were made for payment details for scores of subcontractors at a time.
Their refusal of giving away information is normally stated in a letter and we can quote:
Under Section 12(B) 1 Taxes Management Act 1970 your client must keep all records they need to enable to make a correct and complete tax return.They may receive a penalty of up to £3000 for each failure to keep or to preserve adequate records they need for future reference.[…] If they have lost any of their deduction statements given to them by the contractor(s) or they think they were not given a deduction statement(s), your client must in the first instance go back to the contractor concerned and ask for either a duplicate, or the missing deduction statement.”
That said, unless we can provide evidence that contact has been made to the contractor(s) concerned the HMRC will not be able to release any information. The evidence in question can be either a letter from the contractor(s) confirming why that they are unable to provide the documentation or a letter with the name of the contractor(s) and the dates the client worked for him/them.
As we needed to know more about this subject, we asked one of our legal associates to do some research on this matter. Under Data Protection Law 1998 s.63(1) it is required by all Government departments to reveal information held by them on our clients. However s.29 of the Act states that the right to disclosure of personal data and to have copies of it does not apply to to data collected for the assessment or collection of any taxes:
Personal data processed for any of the following purposes[…](c) the assessment or collection of any tax or duty or of any imposition of a similar nature are exempt from the first data protection principle.” It looks as if there is a clear statutory right for hmrc to refuse to reveal the information requested.
However, there is nothing in the Taxes Management Act 1970 requiring the client to go back to the contractor for a duplicate copy of the missing document(s) in the first place. As there is no policy stating that that the client or agent should first contact the contractor, it appears as if the policy has no status in law.
Taxfile‘s tax accountants in South London would like to know your opinion on this matter. Have you found it difficult this year to deal with your subcontractors’ tax return? Have you gathered all your data from the contractors or you managed to get some help from HMRC? Write your comments, your opinion matters to us.