Wendy Bradley investigates the lack of formal tax consultations this summer, and worries about the informal consultations which have occurred.
*Editor’s note: since this piece was written the consultation machine has whirred into life and produced three consultations, which will be covered in more depth on AccountingWEB in the coming days.*
The usual summer activity for tax policy mavens is complaining about the timing of consultation deadlines and trying to fit them around holidays: this year, though - nothing.
There were no HMRC consultation publications on the gov.uk website at all in July or August.
Why might that be?
The most obvious explanation is the change in the Budget date. The Spring Budget this year was the last: the main budget event has now been moved to the autumn. So the rhythm of the tax policy making process established in the coalition government (with “making tax policy better” and the associated changes) has been disrupted.
How this will work from now on is unclear – will the Finance Act go through in the spring as usual? Can we look forward to autumn announcements, Christmas consultations, a Spring Finance Act and then six months off? Is the process to be concentrated, curtailed, compressed?
This is worrying because rumour has it there are still cosy little chats occurring between certain professional accountancy associations and HMRC. These are "informal consultations" with important "stakeholders." Such meetings can be a useful part of the full consultation process, but they should not be a replacement for it.
Sounding out the big industry groupings in a pre-consultation meeting is one thing: taking feedback from the citizens who will be impacted by legislation can be quite another.
Governments have already walked back the commitment to have open consultation for three months, into a more flexible approach where the period of consultation may be considerably shorter. We need to be vigilant for any attempt to do away with open consultation in favour of limited confidential discussions amongst insiders.
HMRC has its own administrative, rather than legislative, change process under way. There is still money for the MTD computerisation and funding for moving away from the local office network into a few giant conglomerations.
There will be enormous knock-on effects from Brexit to the work of the parts of the department that deal with customs, border and other allied issues. It would be no surprise, then, if HMRC chooses to expend its resources on making sure it can still administer the laws already in place while it changes into something new, rather than in making new laws.
Around the corner
The autumn promises to deliver up some consultation action. The draft clauses for the Autumn Finance Bill were published on Wednesday 13 September. If you really feel the need to do the government's proof reading for it – the legislation is published for a final consultation purely on whether it accurately expresses its intended content, not for a last go at arguing about the content itself.
You might also want to think about the future: contribute your thoughts on what ought to be in the Autumn Budget by filling in the feedback form here before 22 September.
If you feel strongly that there is too much complexity in the tax system you can apply to join the team at the Office of Tax Simplification. Or if you have a limited amount of spare time, and care about how the government disseminates information, you can sign up to take part in the development of the gov.uk website itself by filling in your details here.
Go-on, tell them what you think!
Wendy Bradley is a retired tax inspector, a PhD student at Sheffield University (researching the relationship between tax simplification and better regulation) and a freelance journalist.