Minister evades questions on suicides as five MPs raise Loan Charge Scandal in Parliament

 

 

At Treasury Questions yesterday, 2nd July 2019, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jesse Norman, cynically ignored questions raised by MPs. The responses ignored recent suicides by contract workers facing life changing retrospective tax bills, dismissed related mental health issues as ‘stress’ and outrageously suggested those using arrangements subject to the Loan Charge are effectively getting what they deserve.

Questions came from former Cabinet Ministers David Davis and Justine Greening, Conservative colleague Sir Oliver Heald, Liberal Democrat Jamie Stone and Labour MP Nik Dakin.

While replying to these questions, Jesse Norman twice ignored the shocking fact that people facing the Loan Charge have committed suicide. MPs have raised the suicides and suicide risk with Treasury Ministers numerous times and on each occasion they have been ignored; a Minister has never expressed any sympathy for the families involved.

Jesse Norman rejected Jamie Stone MP’s (Liberal Democrat – Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) statement, that “perfectly innocent working people are caught in a terrible trap here and there have already been several suicides,” by saying:  “The hon. Gentleman is right that there is stress,” but “he should be protective of the tax base more widely when he reflects on those matters.” This is effectively saying individuals are getting what they deserve for “systematically” using these arrangements and that the tax to be collected justifies the human cost.

Mr Norman then admonished David Davis MP (Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden) who stated that responses he had received to “a parliamentary written question on the assessment the Treasury had made of the impact of the loan charge on the mental health of the people subject to pursuit, were less than satisfactory.” Jesse Norman attacked his senior colleague saying, “may I put on record my surprise that a former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, with its concern for the public finances, should take that view?” In doing this Mr Norman suggests Mr Davis should not be raising legitimate concerns about the documented devastating mental health impact of a Treasury policy and known suicides resulting from it.

The Minister proceeded to falsely claim that “HMRC is taking careful steps to ensure that it protects and supports those who may be in genuine difficulty.” This ignores published reports from both the House of Lords and the Loan Charge All Party Parliamentary Group, which cite grave concerns over HMRC’s aggressive treatment of vulnerable individuals and the Loan Charge’s impact on their mental health. It has been reported that there is in fact an abject lack of support given to people by HMRC; those who have contacted HMRC asking for help have been told simply if they are suicidal to call the Samaritans.

Compounding his denial to accept the reality of this appalling situation for thousands of contract workers, Mr Norman conceded that “some people may have been very adversely affected in mental health terms.” The Minister himself, as well his officials and HMRC, is well aware of many people on HMRC’s vulnerable customer list; HMRC have reported themselves to the Independent Office of Police Conduct over one of the suicides of people facing the Loan Charge. Mr Norman also falsely claimed that “a tax information and impact note published in 2016 – and a report on disguised remuneration published in March 2019 both considered the impacts” when in fact neither dealt with the catastrophic mental health impact on people or the known suicide risk and confirmed suicides. Indeed, it seems likely these predictable impacts were deliberately ignored in these whitewash reports.

Replying to a question from Sir Oliver Heald MP (Conservative – North East Hertfordshire), Mr Norman was forced to admit that there was no criminal pursuit of promoters for promoting arrangements subject to the loan charge, yet again repeated the dishonest presentation of recent arrests for allegedly trying to defraud people already facing the loan charge.

Former Cabinet Minister Justine Greening MP (Conservative – Putney) then asked “The reality is that many people caught up in the loan charge scandal were effectively mis-sold schemes that they were told had been QC vetted and were perfectly legal” and “ Is it not time for this fresh Minister to take a fresh look at the Treasury’s approach to all this?” Jesse Norman again arrogantly dismissed her call for review out of hand stating: “Even if they were mis-sold, that does not have a bearing on the question of whether tax is now due.” This claim is despite the fact that the Loan Charge was introduced because HMRC repeatedly failed to prove tax was due and did not pursue people within the statutory time limits.

Finally Nik Dakin MP (Labour – Scunthorpe) pointed out the fact that many people had been forced to use loan arrangements as part of applying for a role, yet this too was haughtily ignored by Mr Norman. The Minister instead claimed that people should have been aware, even though neither the Treasury or HMRC had told people the arrangements were unacceptable, never mind that they might be retrospectively taxed in the future.

Notably at the end of the questions, Philip Hammond whispered ‘well done!’ to Jesse Norman. Mr Norman was no doubt delighted that he, having given the impression that he might listen, instead arrogantly dismissed MPs’ genuine concerns and continued the disgraceful campaign of misinformation by the Treasury.

Spokesperson for the Loan Charge Action Group, Steve Packham, said:

“When Jesse Norman replaced Mel Stride as Financial Secretary to the Treasury, we hoped for a more fair and rational approach to the Loan Charge, but his answers were just as misleading and if anything, his whole attitude was even more callous and arrogant towards the thousands of families facing ruin from this cruel policy.

“It is shameful that, just like his discredited predecessor Mel Stride, Jesse Norman refused to even acknowledge the tragedy of the known Loan Charge suicides and has failed to express sympathy to the families; instead he sought to deflect this important question, including making a spurious attack on his colleague, David Davis.

“Jesse Norman made clear he has no sympathy at all for people who have been mis-sold or badly advised, which is staggering and a notably more aggressive and unsympathetic approach than even that adopted by Mel Stride.  Jesse Norman’s position is basically that however people ended up in loan arrangements, it’s their fault, and the catastrophic effect on their mental health and family life is also all their own fault for not realising that the Government might, one day, many years later, legislate to come after them for tax that wasn’t due by law at the time.

“Jesse’s Norman’s dreadful performance has itself exacerbated the serious anxiety of many people facing the Loan Charge, with some saying it has led to suicidal thoughts, so Mr Norman’s arrogant refusal to honestly engage with colleagues has itself made this mental health crisis worse.

“Now we have seen Jesse Norman’s true colours, we only hope that he is kicked out of office as soon as the new Prime Minister takes office, a Prime Minister who must step in and take control of an untrustworthy and immoral Treasury”.

ENDS

Notes to Editor

Media Contact Mark Sebright – marks@imagenuk.com / 07988 680746

  1. The Loan Charge Action Group (LCAG) is a volunteer run group of people facing the Loan Charge. LCAG seeks campaign to change the Loan Charge and also provided a community where individuals can find information and support. The Group does not provide any form of chargeable service or professional advice. See hmrcloancharge.info

 

  1. The full Hansard transcript of Jesse Norman’s answers at treasury Questions on 2nd July 2019 can be read here https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2019-07-02/debates/F3323558-5BB1-4F11-933C-7B98CD15511A/LoanCharge

 

  1. The Loan Charge Pledge, sent on 28th June to the two Prime Minister candidates for them to sign, reads:

If elected as Conservative leader, I commit that I will suspend the 2019 Loan Charge before the end of September and will order a proper review of it that is independent of HMRC and the Government. I will instruct the Chancellor to tell HMRC that all settlement activity be put on hold and that all settlement agreements, including agreed payment plans, be suspended until this review is completed and Parliament has considered its conclusions. I will instruct the Treasury to implement the conclusions of this review. I further commit to bring forward legislation to remove the retrospective element of the 2019 Loan Charge completely so that it applies from the date of Royal Assent of the Finance Act, 16th November 2017.

  1. The All Party Parliamentary Loan Charge Group (Loan Charge APPG) was formed in January 2019 and now has 160 members from across both Houses.

 

  1. The APPG Loan Charge Inquiry report published 2nd April 2019 exposes the dangerous reality of the Loan Charge, with its impact on people’s mental health. The MPs/Peers have called for a delay and review, given that there are lives at risk http://www.loanchargeappg.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Loan-Charge-Inquiry-Report-April-2019-FINAL.pdf.

The report calls for:

  • An urgent 6-month delay and suspension of the Loan Charge and all associated settlements
  • An independent Review into the Loan Charge led by an experienced tax judge

 

  1. There is an Open Letter to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General, Jesse Norman, which has been signed by 204 MPs and Peers calling for an immediate suspension of the Loan Charge and settlements, and for an independent review.
    The open letter and signatures are available to view here – http://www.loanchargeappg.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Open-letter-to-Jesse-Norman-MP-on-the-Loan-Charge-30-May-2019.pdf