Clause 22

Saving Gateway Accounts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 am on 5th February 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Decisions and notices

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I beg to move amendment 13, in clause 22, page 10, line 24, leave out ‘issued’ and insert ‘received’.

This amendment is more likely to affect our constituents than the one that I have just tried, unsuccessfully, to make to the Bill. Subsection (7) states:

“A penalty must be paid within 30 days beginning with the date on which the notice of the penalty was issued.”

The amendment would replace “issued” with “received”. I accept that that change would not make much difference in most cases. However, I am told that I will struggle to get back to my constituency later, because the west country is covered in snow, and although I accept that it is unlikely that snow will continue to lie deep on the ground for the next month, one could imagine how an extreme weather event, as BBC meteorologists have started to call them, or a postal strike could mean that the 30-day period would be considerably reduced by the time someone received the notice. Similarly, someone who lives in two places or who works away from home for a period or who comes back from a two-week holiday to find that a notice was issued in their absence will have a reduced period in which to pay. In such cases, the period of 30 days, which sounds generous, might be less generous if taken from the date of issue, rather than the date of receipt. I suspect that the Economy Secretary will say that it will be difficult to measure the date on which a notice is received, but, nevertheless, my purpose is to try to ensure that no one is unfairly penalised, because of factors outside their control.

Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Economic and Business), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, Economic Secretary (Economic and Business), HM Treasury

I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do. He wants the penalty charge to be payable within 30 days of its receipt, rather than its issue from HMRC, and he rightly points out that the notices could be delayed in transit. If a big freeze-up lasted for a considerable time and post could not get to account holders, HMRC would want to address that issue and, I expect, allow some flexibility. The key reason why the time limit runs from the date of issue is to provide certainty, because HMRC will know that date without needing to investigate further.

It would be a complete change from HMRC’s normal operating procedures to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests for saving gateway accounts. As he is aware, there is frequently debate about whether documents have been received, and creating potential for dispute between HMRC and people who have been issued with penalty charges about when notices were received and whether penalties have been paid within the permitted time period would add unwarranted complexity. We do not expect that penalties will be required on many occasions, and it is right to mirror current provisions, such as those on the issuing of notices in relation to child trust funds. Similar provisions on tax debts, which are charged under section 100(3) of the Taxes Management Act 1970, established the normal way of doing things. If the hon. Gentleman thinks about this at any great length, he will appreciate the difficulties of using the date of receipt, such as the lack of legal certainty that would be involved in any dispute between parties. I hope, therefore, that he will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Shadow Minister (Treasury) 9:30 am, 5th February 2009

The Economic Secretary is helpful and if I were in his shoes, I would take the same view. I am sympathetic to the Government’s position that there is greater clarity in the current legislation, because it has allowed me to make a valid point. I sign letters that are sent to me in big bundles from my constituency office sometimes a few days after they have been dated, so I hope that the Economic Secretary will do his best to ensure not only in this legislation but more generally that HMRC does not routinely send out letters or  penalty notices several days after the letters have been dated. There is no provision to prevent that from happening. HMRC could send out letters several weeks later and people could be unreasonably penalised, even though, in law, HMRC is entirely in the wrong. I hope that that scenario is entirely hypothetical, and on that note, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.