Loan Charge: Bankruptcy

Treasury – in the House of Commons at on 6 February 2024.

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Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

If he will make an assessment of the potential impact of the loan charge on levels of bankruptcy.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I have heard the concerns expressed by hon. Members on the impact of the loan charge, and I have pushed His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for firm assurances on the safeguards that it has in place. No one will be forced by HMRC to sell their main home or access their pension funds early to pay their loan charge debts, nor has HMRC petitioned for bankruptcy, which would be only a last resort and is in nobody’s interest. There is substantial support in place to help people in debt, including agreeing time-to-pay arrangements with them.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer and his engagement with the loan charge and taxpayer fairness all-party parliamentary group, including a meeting this evening with its officers. In an internal document that surfaced as part of the 2019 Morse review, HMRC admitted to around 100 bankruptcies from the loan charge. Can the Minister tell the House why that figure has never been given publicly by HMRC, and what the figure is today?

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Again, I thank my hon. Friend for championing this area and his great concern for the human stories behind the difficult circumstances resulting from some of these schemes. As I have said, I am constantly seeking reassurance from HMRC on this matter, and my understanding is that where bankruptcies have occurred, it has often been because of requirements outside of the loan charge, not from HMRC; indeed, some people have declared bankruptcy of their own volition. However, if my hon. Friend has evidence to the contrary, I would like to know about it.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

The original Treasury impact statement for the loan charge stated that it would have no material impact on

“family formation, stability or breakdown”,

yet there have been countless divorces, family break-ups, mental health breakdowns and bankruptcies, and at least 10 suicides. That impact statement was grossly wrong, but also surely negligent. We now need a full investigation, including how and why Parliament was so misled over the dangerous and unfair loan charge.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I hear the House’s concern about this issue, on which we had a debate not so long ago. Of course, the suicides the hon. Gentleman mentions concern us, and independent reviews have taken place. However, I want to provide the House and anybody listening with reassurance that the best thing to do if people have concerns is to engage with HMRC, because very generous and long-term plans can be put in place to help people to repay. As I said, there are fears out there—there is a bit of scaremongering—that homes are being taken over or people are having to give up pensions. That is not the case. Engagement with HMRC to establish reasonable time to pay would therefore be reassuring for many of the people who fear much worse consequences. My appeal is to engage with HMRC.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

The Government’s approach to the loan charge has become a nightmare for ordinary people across the country who are the victims of mis-selling and facing financial ruin. The torment and devastating reality is the clearest possible proof that the Government need to think again. Those facing the loan charge ordeal cannot bear to hear yet again that the Morse review is the final word on this matter. Will the Minister finally agree today to commission a new, truly independent review?

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

We had an independent review in 2019 under Lord Morse. The Government accepted 19 of its 20 recommendations. The review has taken place, but as I have said repeatedly, I am challenging HMRC and listening to colleagues. If action needs to be taken, I will take it, but I do not believe that there is a case for another review, because we have already had one, and the Government have already taken action.