The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has called for a full independent inquiry into HM Revenue & Custom’s loss of 25 million child benefit record, arguing that leak reflects deep rooted problems within the department and shows up the need for fundamental reform.
Jane Moore of the tax faculty of the ICAEW told Computerworld UK that chancellor Alistair Darling’s decision to appoint Kieran Poynter of PriceWaterhouseCoopers to look into data-handling systems and procedures at Revenues and Customs was welcome but did not go far enough.
“What we need now is a wider review of procedures and processes,” said Moore.
“There are structural issues and a problem with the system if junior staff are not subject to proper controls.”
Frank Haskew, who heads the institutes tax faculty, said that HMRC and government needed to “urgently rethink the approach to service delivery and what operational changes are needed to ensure that problems such as this do not recur.”
Haskew said that also the loss related to personal data but it could equally have been business data.
“If HMRC cannot reassure everyone with whom they deal that they really can keep confidential data secure in future, then the inevitable result will be that people and businesses will stop providing it to them wherever possible.”
The ICAEW’s call comes after its recent submission to the the Cabinet Office’s capabilty review of HMRC, which argued that HMRC would have suffered “irreperable” reputational damage if it was a business, following a downtown in its service standards on the back of job cuts.
It said in its submission that HMRC was suffering from failures in “clear lines of accountability, ownership of issues and a clarity of vision.”
It added: “We are not convinced that the merger between HM Custom & Excise and the Inland Revenue has yet produced a robust management to support the development of a genuinely customer-focused organisation.”
And its concerns were mirrored by the Chartered Institute of Taxation, which said that it had “long argued” that the tax system had become so complex that it cannot run efficiently.
“Faced with such a complicated system a merger between two large government departments into HMRC was bound to produce difficulty,” it said.
“The CIOT has advocated simplifying the tax system before carrying out any systemic changes, and in the context of a merger of this size, time for it to bed down was always going to be necessary.