Some of you may have heard of the Loan Charge. Most of you probably haven’t. Mark my words, it is a scandal which eclipses the Post Office scandal, of which it is very redolent. It has, however, affected far more people, most of whom are wholly innocent of the charges against them by HMRC. There have been at least ten suicides as a result of it, and many bankruptcies. There are serious allegations that HMRC have used its power illegally in order to try to intimidate its victims into submission. Some people have faced demands for back tax of several hundred thousand pounds in back tax.
The Loan Charge affects thousands of contractors who took part in entirely legitimate schemes, approved both by accountants (indeed, promoted by them) and the HMRC. But in 2016, HMRC decided that these schemes were a form of tax avoidance and went after the users for twenty years of back tax. Yes, twenty years. Those affected were not rich people. They were nurses, who operated through agencies, IT contractors, teachers etc.
I first began to hear stories of people losing their houses and livelihoods. I started to talk about it on my show, and was inundated with people affected. A campaign was launched through the Loan Charge Action Group. Yet various Treasury ministers remained blind to the problem and believed the guff they were continually fed by HMRC. But MPs of all parties have taken up the campaign and on Thursday Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP, held a debate in the House of Commons, which proved hugely successful. The Treasury minister Nigel Huddlestone shamefully just read out the words provided for him by HMRC, but by the end you could tell he was bruised and battered, and maybe, just maybe, had begun to appreciate there was more to this than he had been led to believe. One can but hope.
As I say, this scandal has so many echoes of the Post Office, and I am going to continue to play a part in keeping this issue on the public agenda. And don’t get me started on IR35, which also has similar echoes.