Public Services > Central Government

HMRC launches data sharing consultation

Charlotte Jee Published 24 July 2013

Proposals part of response to the Shakespeare Review and broader open data drive across government

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is seeking views on proposals for the department to increase its sharing of non-identifying information, while ensuring that safeguards are put in place to ensure taxpayer confidentiality, security and privacy.

The consultation, which started on 17 July and is due to close on 24 September 2013, invites feedback from open data experts and specialists, civil society representatives, trade or professional bodies and businesses, in particular VAT traders and individuals.

HMRC would also like to hear views on the potential benefits, costs and risks, and necessary safeguards for proposals to share VAT registration data, either publicly or in a controlled way for specific reasons such as credit ratings, according to the consultation document.

The consultation asks contributors their views on a range of questions, including whether or not legal constraints on sharing general and aggregate information should be removed, whether the proposed safeguards are set at an appropriate level, and how the generation and release of data should be funded.

Currently, HMRC officials are prohibited from sharing data except in very specific circumstances set out in legislation. This prohibition applies to all the department's data.

The team working on the proposals are keen to emphasise that the consultation does not seek to disturb the core principle of taxpayer confidentiality. However, the document says, 'the existing legislation arguably goes further than necessary by extending strong protection to non-identifying information, and to information (such as name and address) which is often widely available from other sources'.

In a foreword to the consultation, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury David Gauke argues that relaxing current restrictions on sharing non-identifying information could result in a number of potentially significant benefits, such as improving policy making across government and making it easier to protect against fraud.

He adds that the proposed changes could also assist the government in meeting its transparency and growth objectives, by helping to improve access to credit for business for example.

The government is expected to publish a response to the consultation in the Autumn Statement, which tends to take place at some point in November. It will include a summary of feedback to the consultation and of outcomes of the HMRC's project to assess the impact of a controlled release of VAT registration data.

However, the document adds, if the government does proceed with HMRC's open data proposals, legislation will be necessary, with the 2014-15 parliamentary session the earliest point that a legislative response could be taken forward.


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