Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)

Wednesday 31 March 2004

Mr Mike Eland, Mr Mike Wells, and Mr Richard Summersgill

  Q140 Mr Steinberg: Rightly so, I am all in favour of barristers getting well paid. I always like to have a little local issue that I raise. It seems to me this afternoon, listening to what you have been talking about, that thousands of crooks seem to be getting away with murder and yet I have an issue in my constituency where an innocent businessman has been hounded by Customs and Excise through no fault of his own. I will tell you a little background and then perhaps you would like to comment because I know normally you say, "Well, we cannot comment on individual cases", but perhaps you might on this one. It is a second hand car sales business called Snippersgate '88 Limited and they had written confirmation from Customs and Excise that if they imported second hand cars from an EU state they would not have to pay VAT but they would have to pay the VAT from the state that they were actually importing from. He imported from Southern Ireland and paid 21% VAT to the two companies that he was buying the cars from. When he then presented it in the UK he was told contradictory advice from Customs and Excise, that he owed the VAT in this country. So he paid 21% VAT in Ireland and now he is getting a bill for 17.5% in this country. He objected most vociferously, as you would expect him to do, and eventually, after about two years, the Irish Government said "Yes, we will pay back the VAT, but we will only pay it back through the suppliers" and one of the suppliers has gone bust. We are talking about tens of thousands of pounds here that he has paid and yet Customs and Excise are still chasing him for the VAT in this country. That does not seem very fair to me at all. What I have tried to do is to get yourselves and the Irish Inland Revenue or Customs and Excise, whatever you call them, to co-operate and you will not. That does not seem to be very fair to me. Thousands of crooks are getting away with murder in this country, not paying VAT, and here is a man who has been given advice by the Customs and Excise who is having to pay twice.

  Mr Eland: I will not fob you off by saying that I cannot comment on an individual case, I will say that I will take it away and look at it and write to you saying what we can do. I will review that case for you.

  Mr Steinberg: These are very useful meetings. Very useful, I can assure you.

  Q141 Mrs Browning: Just very briefly, because while Mr Steinberg was speaking I noticed here on page 24 it says: "In the Republic of Ireland, the introduction of a Criminal Asset Recovery Bureau led to a number of criminals leaving the country and others adjusting their lifestyle. Some crime groups also continued to direct operations in the Republic from overseas." In those circumstances, is that information shared by the Republic of Ireland with you? In other words, if by going overseas they have come over here, are you on to them?

  Mr Eland: I should certainly hope they would share that information with us. We do have good relationships with them. Of course, we have now introduced a Criminal Assets Bureau too so maybe they have gone on to somewhere else.

  Q142 Mr Field: You said you "hoped" they would, but have they?

  Mr Eland: I do not know personally whether they have or not. We do have good exchanges of information with the Republic of Ireland tax authorities. We both would look to assist each other in those circumstances.

  Chairman: Mr Eland, that concludes our inquiries. May I thank you and your colleagues for appearing before us. Clearly when we are talking about £12 billion of public money I think it is probably the general view of this Committee that the civil penalties are too low, the number of investigators too few and your organisation should do better. Thank you very much indeed.

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