The controversial ‘direct access’ rules that allow HMRC to remove funds from individuals’ bank accounts for the purposes of debt recovery have been revised in order to make it safer for the population.
Since the measures were first announced – which allow HMRC to take money from individuals, leaving them with a minimum of £5,000 across all their bank accounts – concerns have been raised about the potential for errors, and simply whether it represents too much power handed to the Revenue.
Existing safeguards include the £5,000 minimum amount left in accounts, as well as limiting the powers to only allow them to be invoked on tax debts over £1,000, and ensuring that only funds to the value of the debt are frozen in accounts, leaving the full remaining balance accessible to the individual.
Now the length of time during which the individual can appeal has been extended, taking it up to 30 days instead of 14, anyone affected will be visited in person by an HMRC officer, and vulnerable individuals will be given greater support.
The process will be subject to judicial oversight, allowing appeals to be taken to County Court; and additional safeguards are due to be introduced on governance and transparency, too.
David Gauke, financial secretary to the Treasury, said: “We already set out robust safeguards to protect vulnerable debtors in our original Direct Recovery of Debts proposals, but feedback from the consultation process told us we could do more to make sure this only catches those who are playing the system.
“We’re strengthening the guarantees we can offer taxpayers that the powers will only be used when debtors have consistently refused to talk to HMRC and settle their debts, and their use will be subject to the toughest scrutiny and oversight possible.”