HMRC have been slammed for offering to give advice to suicidal workers, facing bankruptcy as a result of 2019 Loan Charge, during office hours, 8:30am to 4pm Monday to Friday.

Following calls from desperate contractors facing the charge, the Loan Charge Action Group (LCAG) wrote to Jon Thompson, Chief Executive and Permanent Secretary of HMRC on the 13th June, calling on HMRC to set up a 24-hour helpline for those facing suicidal thoughts and severe anxiety as a result of receiving unpayable demands and threatening letters from HMRC.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, with LCAG taking calls from suicidal workers, something that has also been raised directly with HMRC by individuals,  HMRC took over three weeks to respond to the letter and then the reply came not from Mr Thompson, but from Julie Elsey, the person at HMRC responsible not for mental health, but for Counter Avoidance!

HMRC not only ignored the request for a 24 hour mental health helpline, but Ms Elsey’s letter merely offered to assist to “help people put their tax affairs right”, something contractors have called a sick joke, considering that the unfair pursuit of people’s tax affairs has led to the severe distress they are experiencing. Worse still, Ms Elsey goes on to say that those facing the devastating impact of the Loan Charge can only access any advice between 8:30am and 4pm, Monday to Friday. So people reporting suicidal thoughts as a result of receiving demands from HMRC can only do so during office hours!

The Loan Charge Action Group, a volunteer led action group highlighting the devastating impact of the 2019 Loan Charge is being inundated with calls and messages from distressed freelance contractors that it is not resourced to handle. With no support being offered by HMRC or HM Treasury, LCAG have put in place a volunteer counsellor to field such calls, even though it is not the Group’s role or responsibility to do so. The suicide risk has been reported in the Evening Standard https://www.standard.co.uk/business/suicide-watch-the-preventable-tax-timebomb-looming-for-freelancers-a3861916.html .

The Loan Charge was introduced in 2017 and allows HMRC to collect tax going back as far as 1999, which means that thousands of people, including IT contractors, doctors, teachers, social workers and oil & gas contractors who have been mis-sold self-employment arrangements by employers and agencies now face retrospective tax bills running in some cases to hundreds of thousands of pounds, bills they simply will not be able to pay.

Two MPs have also raised the need for a helpline for those facing the Loan Charge. Stephen Lloyd MP (Liberal Democrat, Eastbourne) called for the Treasury or HMRC to set up a 24-hour helpline in oral Treasury Questions https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2018-07-03c.161.0&s=speaker%3A24754#g163.4

and Roger Godsiff MP (Labour, Birmingham Hall Green) has also raised a suicide prevention hotline to support people facing bankruptcy as a result of the 2019 Loan Charge in a written Parliamentary Question https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2018-07-03/160062/.

The two LCAG letters sent to Jon Thompson and the reply from Julie Elsey are attached.

Richard Horsley, Spokesperson for the Loan Charge Action Group said:

“It is disgraceful that Jon Thompson and HMRC have simply ignored our urgent request for them to offer 24 hour mental health support with people reporting suicidal thoughts as a result of the unfair and disastrous Loan Charge. Not only did it take over three weeks for them to respond to this urgent letter, but then Mr Thompson not only ducked the question, but didn’t even have the decency to respond personally.”

“Considering that we contacted Mr Thompson to make aware of the urgent need for access to mental health support, for HMRC to instead offer ‘to help people put their tax affairs right’ is a sick joke, when it is HMRC’s pursuit of disputed tax that has led to the crisis.  The reality is that as more and more letters are landing on people’s doorsteps, more and more people will be facing devastation as a result of HMRC’s demands due to the Loan Charge and both HMRC and HM Treasury must stop ignoring the real risk here and set up a 24 hour helpline as quickly as possible since one is very clearly needed”.

Dr Iain Campbell of the Independent Health Professionals Association added:

“HMRC need to take their responsibility seriously and accept that there are patients facing severe distress and anxiety because of the Loan Charge and IR35 reforms. They need to offer not just templated responses to these people, but offer genuine support including access to counselling 24 hours a day, to prevent any tragedies that could occur due to the devastating impacts many people are facing as a result of these policies and HMRC’s implementation of them”. ENDS

Notes to Editors

Media Contact: Mark Sebright – marks@imagenuk.com / 07504 042613

About the Loan Charge Action Group: The Loan Charge Action Group seeks to raise awareness and reform of the retrospective IR35 tax charge introduced by HMG in the 2017 Budget and build a community where affected individuals can find information and support. The Group does not provide any form of chargeable service or professional advice. Visit www.hmrcloancharge.info

About the Loan Charge: HM Govt has nasty surprise in store for anyone miss-sold an Employment Arrangement involving remuneration through ‘loans’ next April in the form of the 2019 Loan Charge. Everyone who has ever been employed through a loan scheme structure will be hit with a retrospective charge in the 2018-19 tax year.

The Early Day Motion states: “This House recognises that the (Loan) Charge will affect contractors, freelancers and agency workers, including social workers, supply teachers and bank and locum nurses and doctors; notes that employment was not an option and in some cases the company or organisation insisted on those arrangements, including to avoid paying National Insurance… believes it is unfair that HMRC are pursuing people who acted in good faith rather than the client organisations, agencies or umbrella companies all of whom benefited significantly; notes that HMRC are aggressively pursuing individuals…. with no independent right of appeal; further believes that the Charge is likely to cause financial distress and bankruptcies, and believes that retrospectively taxing something that was technically allowed at the time,  is unfair”.