Open tax data plans come under fire

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John Stokdyk
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The Treasury has confirmed the government’s intention to press ahead with plans to make anonymised tax data available to researchers and commercial organisations.

Over the holiday weekend, The Guardian flagged up the data policy that has evolved under the current government’s open data initiative.

After consultation with various parties, HMRC took the stance that it wanted to publish data proactively and make what information available that it could without violating taxpayer confidentiality.

While The Guardian got confirmation from the Treasury that it was working on legislation to make aggregated and anonymised tax data more widely available, much of the work has already been underway at the HMRC Datalab that was set up in 2011.

The Datalab already allows approved academic researchers to access anonymous data in areas such as corporation tax, VAT, trade statistics and stamp duty land tax.

Personal income survey data is also released in tandem with the UK Data Archive through the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS).

HMRC’s current publication plan stipulates that raw data will not be released to protect taxpayer confidentiality, but broader summary statistics can be put into the public domain...

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23rd Apr 2014 10:48

Open Tax Data Plans Do Not Make Sense

I was shocked to read that HMRC plans to release tax data to third parties. I cannot see how this benefits academics or researchers? As stated, they have mishandled tax data in the past, so where is the guarantee our tax information will not end up in the wrong hands? We at SimpleTax cannot see the sense in this and would never find a reason to share our customers data with anyone; it should remain private and secure.

Joan Lockwood





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23rd Apr 2014 11:05

Lack of understanding on the topic

Anonymised data is relatively easy to create. That's what survey data does every day of the week.

We were doing it 25 years ago based upon analysis of our portfolio. Very useful in things like investigations but also useful in benchmarking clients' performance. 

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23rd Apr 2014 12:25

Anonymised data

In my experience - anonymised data is also (sometimes) easy to decrypt.  I have seen a pdf where data was redacted.  Simply opening the pdf in Adobe and using the select tool I was able to select the black redactions and delete them - showing the redacted information in all its glory.

Given historic HMRC performance, and government IT competence generally, my expectations of them not making some similar error when redacting data are pretty low.

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23rd Apr 2014 21:08

It's not anonymity but accuracy that bothers me
Given that swathes of earnings data supplied by employers under RTI and payments into HMRC by employers are being corrupted by HMRC's core systems it's the accuracy of the data that would bother me, not sure how we are running the country using it at the moment! Stephen timms' PQ earlier this year highlighted the massive discrepancy between expected and actual tax receipts

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24th Apr 2014 16:49

Trial period

I am not persuaded one way or the other over the benefits of this. I would like to see a reasonably long trial run using subjects who can be trusted.  Accordingly, I would propose a 5 year trial involving all MPs, all employees of HMRC and whichever bunch of management consultants came up with this.

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25th Apr 2014 10:36

Trial Period (2)

I agree with mccabesworld, if it is to go ahead, it should be trialled using their own data before they put mine out there.

However, I have no confidence whatsoever that the data they do release will remain confidential and/or anonymised/encrypted for any length of time.

HMRC really should concentrate more of their time and efforts into RTI and its IT systems before they release ANYTHING to ANYONE.

I have had several employees who joined my company last year, who remained on emergency tax or Week 1k/Month 1 tax codes for the remainder of the tax year even though RTI is supposed to eliminate this.

HMRC have no more idea where workers are now than they ever have done, and RTI hasn't improved that situation, it has made it worse..

I wouldn't pay them in washers!


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By Vince54
26th Apr 2014 23:19

"Principally credit scoring"

How can anonymised data be used for credit scoring which, as I understand it, is used on an identifiable individual basis?

Something doesn't read right here.  Or what am I missing?

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28th Apr 2014 15:42

Trade figure data is already released in an anonymised format

HM Revenue and Customs have been providing anonymised data from the trade figures it collects for many years and I'm not aware of any problems arising from this.

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09th May 2014 09:12

Anonymised Data

I have never heard of the phrase Anonynised data until today, lets face it your local council sells your data, your insurance Company may sell your data,  Companies house may sell your data, HMRC have just joined the list, its not what you want though.


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