Improving tax collection - Public Accounts Contents

5  HMRC's treatment of whistleblowers

16. In 2011, we were approached by an HMRC employee, Osita Mba, who raised concerns about HMRC's governance of a large tax dispute. The concerns raised by this whistleblower helped us in our examination of how HMRC settles tax disputes.[50] However, HMRC's response in this case was to use powers granted to it under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to authorise reviews of the whistleblower's telephone records and online activity.[51] HMRC subsequently accepted that this whistleblower had acted in response to genuinely held concerns and that there were failings in the way it responded.[52]

17. We have twice asked HMRC to confirm that it would not use RIPA powers against whistleblowers in future.[53] HMRC noted that there was a strict requirement for staff not to share personal data, and in cases where this happened it could be difficult to tell whether someone was a whistleblower or if they had malicious intent. As such they could not give us a guarantee that these powers would not be used again.[54] HMRC confirmed that any further use of these powers in relation to whistleblowers would be authorised at the most senior level within the Department.[55]

18. HMRC told us that it was confident it had adopted the best practice across government around whistleblowing and that it had improved the awareness both of people who might use the scheme as whistleblowers and of the people who need to support them. It had committed to separate the support given to whistleblowers from any investigation of the whistleblower having potentially broken the law by sharing confidential information.[56] HMRC also told us that it had adopted new civil service procedures, reviewed and changed the information available to staff and provided additional training to its managers.[57] HMRC noted that it had improved its monitoring of whistleblowing and shared this information with its audit and risk committee who could use this to challenge the non-executive board on its approach.[58]

50   Committee of Public Accounts, HM Revenue & Customs 2010-11 accounts: tax disputes, Sixty-first Report of Session 2010-12, HC 1531, 20 December 2011 Back

51   Oral evidence from inquiry: Whistleblowing, HC 1117, 24th March 2014, Qq 70-73  Back

52   Oral evidence from inquiry: Whistleblowing, HC 1117, Q 70 Back

53   Q 293 and Oral evidence from inquiry: Whistleblowing, HC 1117, Q 72 Back

54   Q 293 Back

55   Oral evidence from inquiry: Whistleblowing, HC 1117, Q 83 Back

56   Qq 293-294 Back

57   Q 305; Oral evidence from inquiry: Whistleblowing, HC 1117, Q 72 Back

58   Q 305 Back

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