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Budget 2014: George Osborne Gives HMRC Power To Take Money From Bank Accounts

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GEORGE OSBORNE
George Osborne, U.K. chancellor of the exchequer, holds the dispatch box containing the 2014 budget as he stands outside 11 Downing Street in London, U.K., on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. Osborne will lay out a budget today focused on securing Britain's economic recovery and rebutting opposition Labour Party claims that he's ignoring the rising cost of living. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images | Bloomberg via Getty Images

George Osborne has given HMRC the power to delve into Britons' bank accounts for money that officials think is owed in unpaid taxes, in a move which critics have warned leave officials "a law unto themselves".

The Chancellor slipped details of the move out in the Budget's Red Book, which stated that HMRC will be able to take money from people who owe officials over £1,000 in tax.

Officials will only be able to use the power for Britons who have been asked "multiple times" by debt collection officials to pay, and must leave at least £5,000 in the account.

"This brings the UK in line with many other tax authorities which already have the power to recover debts directly from an individual’s account, such as France and the US," the Budget reads.

Once HMRC takes the money, the taxpayer will have 14 days to get in touch and set up a payment plan, otherwise officials will keep what they have taken.

Osborne's Budget also gave HMRC the power to take money from those they suspect of unfairly avoiding tax, with money only handed back - with interest - if the taxpayer wins a legal challenge in the courts.

George Osborne Looking Awkward With Voters
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Dr Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute, told HuffPostUK: "I am always very suspicious when officials take power to remove people's assets. There are already perfectly good laws obliging people to pay their bills, including their tax bills. And there are punishments if they don't – but those punishments only come after the sentence of a court.

"If we allow the authorities to take cash from our accounts for any amount they think we owe them, then none of us is safe. They become a law unto themselves. This is a very worrying threat to civil liberties. And just because it is done by other countries, that do not have our common-law safeguards, is no reason for us to do it."

Emma Carr, deputy director of Big Brother Watch, warned: "Today the taxman has to go to court to size your money. Now he'll be able to do it with a click of a mouse. People won't object to HRMC having legal powers to pursue people who owe them money but they shouldn't be able to do it without any independent oversight.

"At a time when the Government is looking to reign in the number of public officials who can enter your home without a warrant it is bizarre that the taxman is getting the power to raid your bank account. These powers could have a serious impact on people's lives and as a basic step of protecting peoples liberties they should not be exercised without a court's approval."

Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research UK, said: "There are two issues that need to be separated here. One is about people not paying tax debt. Measures to help recover this are reasonable, including the power to take assets. The other is taking payment when the debt is disputed. That is unacceptable.

"When a debt has not been proven there should be no right for HMRC to take cash. This new rule does therefore require proper protections including a fast track appeals system against any threat of recovery that must be administered independently of HMRC or there is real risk of abuse here."

Meanwhile, Telegraph blogger Willard Foxton wrote: "Fighting HMRC in the courts is already one of the main causes of small business and personal bankruptcies – and this change won't affect that. Anyone who ever has to submit a contentious claim – especially a VAT bill – should be quaking in their boots."

"The police still need warrants to seize property or cash from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act – so people with debts to HMRC are literally going to have less rights than criminals."

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