Thousands of British families are having their Christmas ruined by HMRC, as demands for disputed tax land on doormats up and down the country. Many ordinary contract workers are opening, amongst their greeting cards, brown envelopes containing life-changing retrospective tax demands from HMRC going back 20 years that will make many of them bankrupt.

Despite telling MPs how ‘helpful’ they are being to those facing unexpected tax bills, this behaviour exposes this falsehood – when many taxpayers are at their wits end with their aggressive and unreasonable attitude. In reality, HMRC are shutting down any options for agreement irrespective of ability to pay, effectively bullying nurses, doctors, supply teachers and IT contractors including telling some that they should take out commercial loans to pay their tax bills. The 2019 Loan Charge, which was brought in in 2017, allows HMRC to go back up to 20 years and demand tax on arrangements that were legal and never challenged by HMRC.

One such person is Helen Stone whose estranged husband has received their brown envelope today, 21st December. In her own words: “I want to offer our story as a substantial counterpoint to HMRC’s assertion that they are ‘helping taxpayers to put things right’ and that no-one will be bankrupted by HMRC who is trying to settle.

On Monday 17th December, HMRC tried to serve my husband with a Statutory Notice to begin bankruptcy proceedings. We are not clear what this means, since we are not unable nor unwilling to make payments; we have been victims of unclear and poorly worded communications from HMRC for years. We have asked for a final figure for some years now and to no avail.

This morning my husband received a demand £153,000 with just 18 days to pay which, of course, we cannot, and being Christmas shut down cannot seek the support of tax advisors or contact HMRC which is outrageous. This situation has already cost us our marriage, although this action from HMRC has also prevented us from actually divorcing, now we face bankruptcy and I face losing my home.”

HMRC’s unfair and aggressive pursuit of retrospective Loan Charge taxes was condemned in a powerful report published by the House of Lords on 4th December 2018, which laid bare the reality of HMRC’s abuse of its powers. The shocking reality of HMRC’s aggressive and unreasonable pursuit of people was clearly outlined in many witness statements, leading the Committee to conclude “We were disturbed to hear accounts of HMRC threatening individuals with arrangements that could result in bankruptcy, where individuals clearly have no assets to settle liabilities. Whether these threats were explicit or perceived, they have caused considerable anguish for a number of individuals”.

Already two people facing the Loan Charge are reported as having committed suicide, one of whom cited the Loan Charge before taking his own life. In a survey by the Loan Charge Action Group, a staggering 39% said they had experienced thoughts of suicide or self-harm as a result of the Loan Charge, yet so far HMRC and the Treasury have refused even to set up a hotline for those in distress, despite the House of Lords Committee report recommending this.

Just this week, an HMRC whistle-blower also leaked a damning report about the internal bullying culture at HMRC, with one quote stating that staff at HMRC “accept bullying as the norm”. So many of those on the receiving end of HMRC’s Christmas letters can see why they too are being bullied.

Helen Stone, Loan Charge victim added:

“To receive a disputed tax debt demand for over £150,000 three days before Christmas Eve is just disgusting, even by HMRC’s standards. When you consider that this is over a £1000 missed payment and that they have ignored my MP, it confirms the abusive bullying attitude to taxpayers as exposed in the recent House of Lords report.

“HMRC are behaving like the worst sort of loan shark, harassing and threatening people who are doing their best to deal with the very difficult situation they are in. On top of this, to target people so close to Christmas is frankly shocking and will ruin Christmas for many people. HMRC should hang their heads in shame and the Government should get a grip”.

Loan Charge Action Group, (LCAG) Spokesperson, Richard Horsley said:

“The systematic use of tax demands by HMRC in the run-up to Christmas is shocking and should not be allowed. Already people are facing life-destroying losses and family breakdown as a result of the unfair Loan Charge and this will only make their situation worse, as well as ruining Christmas for lots of families.

“Our members and thousands of other contract workers are being persecuted for entering employment arrangements that were perfectly legal and advised or encouraged at the time by their employers and agencies and it is time that Government got a grip and brought out-of-control HMRC in line with basic values of public service.”

Dr Iain Campbell, Secretary General of Independent Health Professionals Association (IHPA) added:

“The sending of tax demands so close to Christmas is not only cynical but is disgraceful and likely increases the risk of mental health problems for people facing tax demands at this time of year. We know of nurses who will be made bankrupt if the Loan Charge goes through next year as planned, the Loan Charge is a mental health timebomb and targeting people at Christmas brings HMRC into disrepute, they need to be brought under control as the recent House of Lords report recommended”.