HMRC Direct Recovery Powers – sign the petition

You may have heard that there are proposals out from Government / HMRC to grant HMRC a so-called “direct recovery” power.

In essence this would allow HMRC to debit a tax payers bank account for any unpaid tax arrears, without oversight or prior notice. There would be a stipulation that the bank balance must remain at a minimum £5,000 after the debit so as not to dip into people’s business working capital or immediate household funds, but that’s more or less the only safeguard.

These proposals cover business and personal tax debts.

Many people are very worried about these proposals. HMRC already have powers to achieve the same end via the Courts, Direct Recovery cuts out that element of oversight and due process. It could be argued its “efficiency” for HMRC, or from an opposite perspective laziness.

The accounting profession has major concerns over HMRCs administrative capability – simply there are too many erroneous assessments, mistakes and misallocations – and the bottom line is many feel this is a step to far with HMRCs powers.

There is a longer article about some of the problems on the Taxation web site (you should be able to read this without a login) and a petition on the Government e-petitions web site.

Can I urge people to consider their response to this issue and

  1. Sign the petition
  2. Highlight the issue to colleagues, family and friends (feel free to share this post)
  3. Consider a letter of objection to your MP

This post first appeared at Whitefield Tax on August 21st.

A visit to the Cornershop

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that I am a cultural philistine. I can look at the works of the great artists such as Constanble, Turner et al and appreciate that they have something but they do nothing for me. On the other hand something like Tracey Emin’s unmade bed just makes me think WTF? In short I don’t bother going to art galleries because I’d be bored senseless and just want to leave very quickly.

As anyone who follows Mark Sparrow on twitter (or read this post by Anna – or any of the other publicity) will know by now, his daughter, Lucy, has, for the month of August, been manning a cornershop in East London stuffed full of things you might find in any other cornershop. But with one small difference: all the items on display are made of felt and put together by Lucy herself.

I first found about this when, having asked Mark if he’d like to meet for lunch on my way back from the West Country on August 1st, he blew me off having realised it co-incided with the grand opening. (No, Mark, I won’t tell Lucy you initially agreed and then had to back out once you’d remembered. :D )

My curisoity peaked, I finally found some time to walk over there after work one day nd have a nose around. As you do, I took some pictures as well.

All the news that is fit to felt

If you looked at the pictures, I expect you can realise that Lucy has certainly put in a lot of effort to produce this. Something like 6 months or so I believe and the end result is certainly a testiment to this. Philistine that I am, I can appreciate this even if I’m baffled as to why. :)

Just do(n’t record) it

UK Law:

Legal: Consensual sex between people aged 16 and over.
Illegal: Taking pictures of people aged 16 and 17 that can be considered sexual in nature as, because they are under 18, the pictures are, by law, child pornography.

Yes, I’m aware this situation isn’t new. I just wanted to point out, for posterity, how blitheringly stupid the situation is.

Wanted: An England Cricket Captain

For anyone who follows the England cricket team, the talk about their current captain, Alastair Cook, is pretty much unavoidable.

The successor to the pretty successful Andrew Strauss, he was always going to have to tough act to follow but, initially, it seemed to be going well. He avoided a potential banana skin in Bangladesh in Feb/Mar 2010 (scoring plenty of runs in the process) whilst deputising for the rested Strauss and started well by leading the side to 2-1 series win in India (again scoring heavily) in 1012/13 in the first series after Strauss retired.

Sadly for both Cook and England that has proved to be the high point of his reign (a 3-0 win in the Ashes in 2013 not withstanding). Since the end of the 2013 Ashes series England have lost 5-0 to Australia in Australia*, 1-0 to Sri Lanka and look likely to finish second in the current India series. His personal stats with the bat are no less grim: 277 runs @ 27.70 in Ashes 2013, 246 @ 24.60 in Ashes 2013/14, 78 @ 19.50 against Sri Lanka and, so far, 15 @ 7.50 against India.

Against this there is also the continuing fallout of the 2013/14 Ashes whitewash to consider. Those who know the full story aren’t telling which leaves everyone else speculating. All we know for sure is that the England management called time on Kevin Pietersen’s international career shortly after the team returned from Australia. There is no doubt that KP, on his day, was a brilliantly destructive batsman. However it is also not in doubt that he has fallen out with many of the teams he has played for (Nottinghamshire, Hampshire and England being three obvious examples). Strauss may have been an idiot for calling him a complete c*** on an open microphone but that doesn’t make the description any less true.

All of this leaves us where we are today: a rudderless team lead by a man who is, to put it very bluntly, horribly out of form with the bat, looking clueless in the field (even compared MS Dhoni – hardly a great skipper himself!) – as the third session of the first day of the current game ably demonstrated – and increasingly forlorn (as this picture after his dismissal on Friday shows).

Also, just to add to the woes, the current wicket keeper (Matt Prior), is also out of form, dropping relatively simply chances, and is, possibly, several games past what should have been the end of his international career.

My reading of the current dilemma is that Cook won’t quit (but he’d probably be quite happy right now if he was sacked) whilst the ECB won’t sack him (but would be quite relieved if he quit).

However I think there is a solution – one that will kill two birds with one stone.

If the ECB won’t sack him then the face-saving answer will be to say that he has picked up an injury and will be unavailable for a month or so thus ruling him out of the rest of the series (first day of the last test is 15th August). Conveniently Essex (Cook’s domestic team) do not have another First Class game until 15th August and certainly wouldn’t miss him in the shorter stuff between now and then. This gives him time to take a complete break from the game and perhaps clear his head.

In the meantime, England will need a new skipper and a new opening batsman. Given that nobody in the current side is pushing their captaincy credentials (Ian Bell is a foot soldier, not a leader; Stuart Broad’s attempts to do the T20 job have been poor and James Anderson seems unable to lead the bowling attack for any length of time) the selectors need to look outside of the team.

My suggestion would be to select either James Foster or Chris Read. Both captain their counties and both are wicket keepers. Pick either of them (I’d prefer Foster but I am biased**), tell them that the job is theirs come what may until the end of the 2015/16 season just so long as they get the players functioning as a unit and take that time to identify where the leadership group amongst the current (or near-future) group of players is. Add in an opener (Carberry or Compton probably) and then see how it goes. A new spearhead will be needed to replace Anderson (probably after Ashes 2015) and there is the lingering problem of a spinner but those are not decisions for the captain.

Give the ODI and T20 captaincy to Eoin Morgan (he’s unlikely to figure in the test side again) and tell Broad to pick no more than two formats (hopefully Tests only) to play.

In the meantime Cook can, if he wants, return to Essex colours for some of their last 4 First Class games this season. If he starts scoring runs then consider him for the 2014/15 season. If not then he gets a winter off and starts again in 2015 and gets picked for England (as a batsman only) when he is back in nick and scoring without difficulty domestically.

* A stupidly timed series that owes everything to the ECB chasing money. A more sensible approach to ensuring that the away (for the English) Ashes series doesn’t fall in the same season as the Cricket World Cup would have been to push the away series back a year rather than bringing it forward a year. The end result of this is that there will be 3 Ashes series in 2 years.

** Foster on test duty allows Ben Foakes to keep wicket regularly for Essex thus keeping him with the county before he wanders off like Adam Wheater did and we end up scrabbling for a new ‘keeper once Foster retires.

The cost of a letter

The SLC also admitted that around 309,000 customers had been sent letters using the Smith Lawson brand in the last nine years.

Using Wonga’s average of £50 repayment per customer as a baseline, I reckon that the State needs to cough up about £15.5m to cover the cost of the Student Loan Company’s actions between 2005 and the present day.

Oxfam: Fake Charity

According to their 2012/13 accounts, Oxfam’s income for the year was £367.9m, down from £385.5m in 2011/12 (a decline of just over 4.5%).

Of this, £162.1m (44.1%) came from government, institutional donors and other public authorities. This is up from £159.8m (41.5%) in the previous financial year (an increase of almost 1.5%). In the same period the voluntary income declined by 14% from £127.7m to £111.5m.

The breakdown of income from government, institutional donors and other public authorities is listed on page 55 of the report. I have reproduced it here:

Income from government, institutional donors and other public authorities
Year to
31 March 2012
Year to
31 March 2013
159.8 162.1
Governments* 41.4 46.7
Multilateral organisations** 72.2 78.7
Oxfam Affiliates*** 31.6 21.2
International foundations, grant makers and other donors 14.6 15.5
Year to
31 March 2013
Austria 284
Canada 42
Denmark 1,461
Ireland 806
Kenya 21
Netherlands 1,444
New Zealand 445
Nigeria 44
Norway 471
Sweden 9,458
Switzerland 2,339
United Kingdom 38,262
United States 2,832

£11.2m of income from governments is reflected as voluntary income (Note 2a), in respect of the DFID PPA, and £46.7m as income from charitable activities (Note 2d).

**Multilateral organisations
Year to
31 March 2013
European Commission Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) 35,175
European Commission Directorate General for Development and Cooperation (EuropeAid) 12,936
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) 31
International Organisation for Migration (IOM) 143
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 8,114
United Nations Democracy Fund 999
United Nations Development Programme 3,187
United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) 374
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 7,875
United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) 2,546
United Nations Office for Project Services 844
United Nations Population Fund 65
United Nations Women 23
United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) 5,253
United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO) 197
World Bank 909
***Oxfam affiliates
Year to
31 March 2013
Oxfam America 1,459
Oxfam Australia 5,600
Solidarité (Oxfam in Belgium) 130
Oxfam Canada 2,450
Oxfam France 257
Oxfam Germany 649
Oxfam Hong Kong 1,527
Intermón Oxfam 295
Oxfam International 86
Oxfam Ireland 2,779
Oxfam Japan 39
Oxfam Mexico 17
Oxfam New Zealand (7)
Oxfam Novib 5,457
Oxfam Quebec 455

The prosecution rests, M’Lud.

Does Jos Buttler deserve any sympathy?

Jos Buttler is run out during the 5th ODI against Sri Lanka on 3rd June 2014

In a word? No.

He was backing up far too far and Sri Lanka were well within their rights to tun him out, as stated in Law 42.15:

The bowler is permitted, before entering his delivery stride, to attempt to run out the non-striker.

I suggest that he stays within the crease until the ball has been delivered in future.

Ideas for a ‘zombie’ government

Apparently our government has run out of ideas as to what to do with itself in the final parliamentary term before the next election. Given this I thought I’d be very public spirited (how is the Big Society going?) and help them out by offering up some useful ideas to start them off:

  • Repeal lifestyle laws, e.g smoking ban
  • Repeal the handgun ban
  • Decriminalise drugs
  • Decriminalise acts associated with sex-work, e.g brothel-keeping

Feel free to add your (non-authoritarian) suggestions below.

Kipped out

And so the quinquennial farce that are the European Parliamentary Elections draw towards an end as those who can be bothered to cast a ballot get the opportunity to do so at various times over the next 4 days with the results starting to be announced after the polls finally close on Sunday evening.

Farce, you cry? Well yes. What else do you call voting for a parliament with few powers? The real power lies with the European Commission and the members of that august body (no sniggering at the back) are appointed by national governments without any voter consultation.

Given that, is it any surprise that the European electorate aren’t expected to bother? Barely 43% bothered in 2009 – ranging from as high as 91% in Belgium and Luxembourg to just shy of 20% in Slovakia (the UK managed just over 1 in 3) – and I doubt it would surprise anyone if it is lower this time around.

As any UK resident will be aware, the main media story of the campaign in this country has been UKIP and the likelihood of them topping the poll – thus leading to them taking more seats on the European gravy train than either Labour or the Conservatives.

To call the campaign acrimonious would be an understatement. With it being impossible (since they have no effective power) to formulate an election strategy based on what the pan-European electoral grouping each national party is affiliated to might achieve should it become the biggest (pretty much nothing), the UK parties have fallen back on national issues. Therefore the election will (in the UK at least) be seen more as a protest against the ‘Establishment’ rather than as a serious attempt to produce a ‘Government’ (in the loosest sense of the word).

I suspect only those who have been concentrating will be able to recall anything memorable that iDave, Millipede Jr or Nick have said during this campaign but, thanks to the media attention focused on the party, can probably mention several things said by UKIP leader Nigel Farage and various candidates (whether for the European or the local elections) – especially the ones that cast the party in a bad light.

The charge of racism has been levelled at them since they made immigration (or the right to live and work anywhere within the EU) the focus of their EU election strategy and various comments have shown that there are certainly some candidates who have distasteful views regarding skin colour or, more generally, anyone perceived to be ‘foreign’.

I very much doubt that those sentiments are confined to just UKIP supporters or candidates but the repeated accusations and exposures of candidates opinions has, it would seem, demonstrably failed to make any negative impact on UKIP’s polling figures. We shall find out the truth of the matter on Sunday. What has been rather more amusing is watching the development of a bunker mentality amongst the more vocal of their supporters on social media and a run on tinfoil as their belief that this is all a conspiracy grows.

In the end though it matters not if UKIP top the European Parliament ballot in Great Britain. Until they manage to get some MPs they are going to remain an even more useless protest vote than the Lib Dems.

If you wish to vote UKIP (or, indeed, anyone else) then go ahead. Just don’t think it will change anything.

MPs drink ‘to point of oblivion’, official warns

A parliamentary culture of heavy drinking can see MPs “drinking to the point of oblivion” the person responsible for security and keeping order within the Commons has admitted as he faced calls to scrap subsidised drink in parliamentary bars.

The Serjeant at Arms told an MPs committee the Government should do more to rein in a boozing culture within Parliament.

He also faced calls to end cut price alcohol in parliamentary after one MP complained she had once been charged only £1 for a treble gin and tonic while in the Strangers’ Bar.

Mr Ward told the Administration Committee he was not a “killjoy” and recognised people with stressful jobs needed to let their hair down.

However he said: “I am not convinced that we couldn’t do more about the culture of drinking in Parliament,”

“I’m not some killjoy. But sometimes there has been an attitude in the past that it was acceptable, as part of that de-stressing process, to all go out and consume vast amounts of alcohol as part of that camaraderie and that letting down of the hair.

“There is nothing wrong with some of that, but the levels of drinking to the point of oblivion and all the rest of it is a culture which I don’t welcome in any workforce.

“The incidence of binge drinking, the quantities of alcohol, across society are beginning to diminish. I would hope that would be the same in Parliament.”

His concerns had been heightened by the actions of the MP for Falkirk, Eric Joyce.

He told MPs “There were many things in that incident that concerned me. One of them, quite clearly, the culture of heavy drinking.”

Madeleine Moon MP said ending the “high level of subsidy” enjoyed at parliamentary bars would help to curb drinking.

She said she got the “fright of my life” when she was charged only £1 for a treble gin and tonic when setting foot in the Strangers’ Bar two years ago.

The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has been tasked by the Serjeant at Arms with finding ways to cut problem drinking in parliament – and its report is due later this year.

A parliamentary spokesman said: “Much like wider society, MPs accept that the moderate consumption of alcohol can be part of life.

“However, we always encourage sensible drinking and have a number of programmes designed to raise awareness and prevent alcohol misuse.”

Advice on the dangers of excessive drinking forms part of wider initiatives to encourage a healthy lifestyle among MPs, officials indicated.

Cheap drink and/or food is available to MPs and staffers in all parliamentary bars and restaurants and is subsidised.

NB: Some of the details of this story may have been changed.