Boldly they strode, the British Bankers’ Association, into the hotly contested debate about proposals to enable HMRC to recover undisputed tax debts directly from non-payers’ bank accounts.
And boldly they spoke too:
It is clear that HMRC’s performance cannot yet be considered as sufficiently competent to wield an unchecked power this strong.
The lack of checks and balances could create problems for citizens.
We are not persuaded that the rights… of the vulnerable… are sufficiently protected.
Admirable stuff, you may think. And, should anyone be unkind enough to suggest a touch of ‘pot’ and ‘kettle’ about Banks criticising HMRC’s competence, well, that would merely highlight the BBA’s bravery in taking this principled stance in the public interest.
But pause for a moment. Why might the BBA speak out publicly on such a matter: its ‘News’ page is not heavy with statements made in the public interest?
Does the BBA’s letter tell us? It does not.
But HM Treasury’s Consultation Document might. Buried away on page 19, in the “Assessment of Impacts” one finds this statement:
Deposit-takers will be required to provide information to HMRC and deduct and transfer sums from customers’ accounts to HMRC, which may carry an associated cost.
In other words, the cost of operating the proposals will fall, in good part, upon the banks.
Now, the proposals face remarkably widespread and heterodox opposition: Liberty, most of the Professional Institutes, the Treasury Select Committee, and almost all of the tax profession have come out against. And now the banks too. The proposals are – one or two Canutian souls excepted – universally disliked. So no real complaint can be made about the substance of the banks’ criticism which is carefully modulated and reflects concerns expressed by others.
But for the banks to speak out, purportedly in the public interest, but keeping quiet about their own?
It doesn’t leave a great taste.