Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-174)|
MP, MR TONY
14 MARCH 2007
Q160 Jim Cousins: If they do not
tell you, and they will only tell you if they have read to page
30 of the advice booklet.
Mr Orhnial: I cannot remember
the shape of the form. Do you, Sarah?
Ms Walker: It is not 30 pages.
Q161 Jim Cousins: Roughly what number
of pages would you have to read to get to that point?
Ms Walker: I suspect it is around
Q162 Jim Cousins: Could you let the
Committee know how many pages you would have to read?
Ms Walker: I would say something
like six or seven pages. I can certainly check.
Q163 Chairman: The Chairman of the
Social Security Advisory Committee, Sir Richard Tilt, said that
the operation of the Memorandum of Understanding between the SSAC
and HMRC "continues to cause us concern". I think that
Memorandum is under review at the moment. What is the problem?
Dawn Primarolo: I do not know.
Presumably the difference between being appointed by the Secretary
of State and attached to DWP and being on a Memorandum of Understanding
with the board of Inland Revenue which is constructed in an entirely
different way with different accountabilities to Parliament. I
would have to speculate, I am afraid. It is under review, yes.
Q164 Chairman: So the problem is
the statutory basis of the Advisory Committee?
Dawn Primarolo: The Advisory Committee
is appointed by the Secretary of State for DWP and has obligations
through DWP. DWP does not have a board like the Revenue does with
split responsibilities. A structure for the HMRC has been recently
confirmed in its legislation. The Secretary of State for DWP appoints
the committee and he is accountable for all of DWP. In HMRC there
is a division of responsibilities and the board itself in HMRC
has accountabilities and requirements to report and does not appoint
that committee. What happened when the Tax Credits Bill was discussed
was it was agreed that there would be a Memorandum of Understanding,
which exists, and that is under review. The review has been triggered
and it is being looked at in terms of its operation.
Q165 Chairman: The Citizens Advice
Bureau tell us that there are both overpayments and underpayments
arising in situations where a child stays on in full-time non-advanced
education after 16 but mistakes are far less common on the child
benefit side. Why can a claimant not contact HMRC once only to
report a change in circumstances that affects entitlement to both
tax credits and child benefit? Could information not be shared
between the tax credit teams and the child benefit teams?
Dawn Primarolo: It is.
Ms Walker: The rules are slightly
different in terms of when child benefit stops and when tax credit
stops in relation to people leaving education, and that is simply
because of the historical basis of child benefit legislation which
is older than the tax credit legislation. At the moment we do
not share as much information as we ought to between the child
benefit system and the tax credit system because of the limitations
particularly of the IT system but we are working very hard on
making sure that people only need to tell us once when something
like that is happening.
Q166 Chairman: So there is no legal
problem about sharing information of that kind?
Ms Walker: Not at all.
Q167 Chairman: One of the recommendations
we made, and it is an issue we have discussed with you before,
was the extent to which HMRC is prepared to make data available
in the way that DWP do, understanding the position of confidentiality,
but aggregate data so that those outside Parliament, outside HMRC,
in the universities and think-tanks and so on, can start to analyse
the progress that you are making. You have not responded very
positively to that.
Dawn Primarolo: I do not agree,
I do not think. There is the section 40 report, the annual report
which has just been published. There are all the statistics which
HMRC regularly publish. There is the external evaluations which
are published when completed. There is the information provided
both to committees and to Parliament. There is a lot of information
on tax credits. What happens is that on occasion people ask for
information that is not there and think that it is being withheld
and it is not. Precisely the reason for having the section 40
report when it was added to the Tax Credits Bill was to provide
that wider summary and the take-up figures are done, the statistical
figures on overpayments and fraud and error are around.
Q168 Chairman: Your answer to our
recommendation was that you agreed with it, you said you gave
a high priority to it and you put information on the website and
have analysts analysing the information, but what we were concerned
about, given we have now been running for four years, was whether
sufficient information was available to the academic world, for
example, or whether you at some point will commission independent
studies, whether there is enough data out there so you are not
the sole people looking at this.
Dawn Primarolo: We have announced
the evaluations and research that the external bodies are conducting
on HMRC's running of the tax credit system. By virtue of the fact
that they are conducting the research that gives them access as
well to the information inside HMRC, so I do not see that is a
danger. I cannot remember, to be honest, whether we have submitted
separately to the Committee the commitments on external evaluations
and where those are taking place but we can certainly provide
Q169 Chairman: Perhaps a list would
be helpful if you could provide that.
Ms Walker: We are increasing the
amount of information we publish all the time. This year for the
first time we have published take-up statistics broken down to
a very small geographical area to ward level which was something
that we were being asked to publish. We are working to improve
the amount and detail of the information that we publish.
Q170 Chairman: Beyond the section
40 report, will you get to a position where you produce an annual
report on the whole system?
Dawn Primarolo: Forgive me, what
would you want to see in it? Section 40 explains all of the position
with regard to take-up. Are you suggesting that HMRC should produce
a glossary of all the considerations of Parliament and all the
information that has been given in different places in one consolidated
Q171 Chairman: One difficulty we
have, and we have had it this afternoon, is by the nature of the
system you are running some of the data is now quite old and you
are not able to, if you like, score off particular years for a
year or two years after they have ended. Now we have got the system
a little more mature and up and running, I am wondering whether
we are able to see, for example, the extent of overpayment recovery
over a three year period or whatever and whether you would not
consider a wider form of annual report that summarised each year.
Dawn Primarolo: You are talking
about a subsection in the Department's annual report. Can I take
that away and consider it and respond to the Committee?
Q172 Chairman: Of course, that would
be extremely helpful. You have promised us, I think, quite a list
of other information.
Dawn Primarolo: Indeed. We have
taken notes but it would be very helpful to have a reminder.
Q173 Chairman: We will be in touch
with you about that.
Dawn Primarolo: Promptly.
Q174 Chairman: Minister, can I thank
you and your officials for coming here today. We will return to
these matters in the very near futuretomorrow. Thank you.
Dawn Primarolo: Looking forward
to it. Thank you very much.