Tax relief for scheme payments etc

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 18th June 2020.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

With this it will be convenient to discuss schedule 14.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

It is a delight to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. Welcome to day six of our deliberations—or is it day five? It feels like many more. At the start of the Committee, I said that we were like pilgrims in “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, and that hopefully we would get through the slough of despond. I venture to say that we have made it over the hill of difficulty, but perhaps not quite reached Calvary or the place of deliverance.

Clause 99 and schedule 14 exempt payments made under the Windrush compensation scheme and the troubles permanent disablement payment scheme from income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax. The Government deeply regret what happened to many members of the Windrush generation. The Windrush compensation scheme was launched in April 2019 and is a key part of the Government’s righting those wrongs. It compensates individuals who have suffered loss by being unable to demonstrate their lawful status in the United Kingdom. The compensation covers a number of areas, including loss of income, denial of access to social security benefits and incorrect detention. Similarly, the troubles permanent disablement payment scheme makes payments in acknowledgment that, during the troubles, many individuals suffered permanent injury through no fault of their own. It also aims to address the adverse financial impact that troubles-related disablement can have on individuals and families.

Payments made under schemes such as these are often made entirely free of income tax without the need for legislation, but there are circumstances where income tax may apply. Payments could be taxable if they were made to reinstate taxable social security benefits or in respect of a terminated employment. All types of payments could be subject to inheritance tax or capital gains tax if they exceed the relevant thresholds. Clause 99 and schedule 14 will ensure that payments made under the Windrush compensation scheme and the troubles permanent disablement payment scheme are exempt from income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax.

The changes reaffirm the Government’s commitment to the Windrush generation and to those who suffered as a result of the troubles, and give certainty about compensation to claimants. The clause also introduces a new power to allow the Government to extend the definition of “qualifying payment” to other compensation schemes, allowing the Government to act more quickly to clarify the tax treatment of any necessary future compensation schemes, including those set up by foreign Governments. As we have seen, payments from such schemes can begin before it is possible to pass legislation in a Finance Act to exempt them from those taxes. Exempting such payments from tax in the past has not been controversial, and I hope it will not be so today and in the future.

The clause provides tax exemptions and gives clarity to those eligible for payments under the Windrush compensation scheme and the troubles permanent disablement payment scheme. I therefore commend the clause and the schedule to the Committee.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

It is a pleasure to be here for what is likely to be our final day of line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill. It is important to remember that the reason why we are discussing clause 99 is in no small part, as the Minister alluded to, due to the Windrush compensation scheme, which is the culmination and inevitable consequence of the appalling circumstances of the aggressive and deeply destructive hostile environment pursued by the Government over the course of the past 10 years. As Wendy Williams said in her review, the Windrush scandal, which saw so many people’s lives completely disrupted, and in many cases ruined, was the result of “foreseeable and avoidable” systematic operational failings, so it is right that the Windrush compensation scheme was established. The House has considered those issues many times.

It is a source of deep regret, to put it mildly, that fewer than one in 20 people who have made claims under the Windrush compensation scheme have been paid so far. I want to take the opportunity, as we are discussing clause 99, to restate again our view that the Government must act much more quickly. People are owed that compensation, although the financial compensation will never fully compensate for the emotional and mental trauma that British citizens suffered as a result of the Windrush scandal.

It is appalling that we have added insult to injury by moving so slowly on compensation claims, even where they have been made. Of course, as the Minister outlined, the clause improves conditions for people accessing such schemes, whether the Windrush compensation scheme or the troubles permanent disablement payment scheme, so we have no objection to the clause.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

It is regrettable that so many people are still waiting for their money through the Windrush compensation scheme. I urge the Minister to do everything he can to make sure that the money gets out the door.

It is useful that the clause allows for future schemes so that there will, hopefully, be fewer delays and less confusion for people in future about the impact of those schemes. We want to make sure that, where wrongs have been done, people can get the money that they are entitled to in compensation as swiftly as possible.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I thank both hon. Members for their comments. To pick up on the last point, the hon. Lady is absolutely right about the value of building in capacity to respond more quickly in future. It is noticeable that the Chartered Institute of Taxation, which is well respected across the Committee, commented that,

“This is a sensible move from the government to help… It is also encouraging to see that the bill…will make it easier in the future for payments…to be made tax-free, without the need for fresh legislation.”

That very much remakes the point she made, and I thank her for that.

On the point about the numbers paid out, I completely understand the concern and I know that other Ministers do as well. There is a balance between due process and speed. Of course, the compensation claims have to be agreed on both sides—the offers have to be accepted—for them to be payable. It is important that the hon. Members have put their concerns on the record, and I fully share them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 99 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 14 agreed to.