HMRC to gain new civil information powers

A new measure that will provide HMRC with additional civil information powers is expected to take effect when the Finance Bill 2020-21 receives Royal Assent. The new measure known as a Financial Institution Notice (FIN) will be used to require financial institutions to provide information to HMRC, when requested, about a specific taxpayer and without the need for approval from the independent tribunal that considers tax matters.

Currently it takes HMRC on average 12 months to respond to requests for third party financial information from other tax authorities when an information notice is needed, whereas the target under international standards is six months. The introduction of the new FIN will remove the current requirement for HMRC to obtain approval from the tax tribunal before obtaining information from financial institutions and therefore bring the UK into line with international standards on tax transparency and on the quality and speed of exchange of tax information.

The FIN will be balanced by a number of taxpayer safeguards, including:

  • the information sought will have to be reasonably required for the purpose of checking a known taxpayer’s tax position. For international requests, the information in the FIN will need to be relevant to the administration or collection of tax and the jurisdiction requesting the information would need to have exhausted all reasonable domestic ways to get the information;
  • documents subject to legal professional privilege cannot be requested;
  • HMRC will be required to tell the taxpayer why the information is needed, unless a tax tribunal rules this condition should not apply;
  • an authorised officer of HMRC (someone with the relevant experience and training) will need to approve the decision to issue a FIN;
  • if a Financial Institution does not comply with a FIN, and as a result HMRC charges penalties, the Financial Institution will be able to appeal against the penalties

In addition, HMRC is required to report to Parliament annually on the use of the FIN.

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