Urgently review loan fees now that the suicide helpline is closed, urged Treasury’s Lucy Frazer
Lucy Frazer, the new financial secretary to the Treasury, is “begged” to correct the government’s poor approach to contractors affected by HMRC loan charges.
In a letter to Jesse Norman’s successor, Ms Frazer, a former QC, is invited by her author LCAG to “take a fresh look” at the HMRC policy that led to the suicide of seven people, according to the group.
Previously a commercial lawyer, the 49-year-old is told that this means she is deviating from the position of her “two predecessors” (Mr Norman and Mel Stride), and instead backs new Chief Treasury Secretary Simon Clarke.
Each named to Her Majesty’s Treasury last month, Ms Frazer is reminded in the letter that her fellow Conservative MP, Mr Clarke, has already acknowledged the unfairness of the prosecution by co-signing two letters to ministers.
If her boss’s two earlier objections to the prosecution fail to convince her to “change course” on the HMRC policy “debacle”, the hope is that her understanding of the rule of law does. will not.
Steve Packham of Loan Charge Action Group, who co-signed the letter to the new Treasury Minister with LCAG Director Andrew Earnshaw, told ContractorUK:
“We urge [Ms Frazer] actually looking at the loan change rather than doing like its predecessors did and just acting like the mouthpiece for an out of control HMRC.
“As a senior lawyer, she should be deeply troubled by how loan fees undermine the rule of law, as many MPs have pointed out.”
The call for the new minister follows an open letter to Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak (who calls on one of them to intervene on the costs of the loan), attracting its 134th signatory MP.
“The helpdesk volunteers stop”
But more urgent for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, a suicide prevention hotline for those affected by the accusation had to close, after operating 24 hours a day for three years.
The helpline was only set up because despite an MP recommending that HMRC set up a facility for taxpayers considering suicide due to its policies, the department refused.
“Why do volunteers stop [is] very simple, ”said a spokesperson for LCAG, responding to ContractorUK. “Their own mental health and well-being, as well as that of their own families.
“They all face – or have also faced – the loan fees and have taken these calls, some of which can be very long, day and night for the past three years.
“The toll of that, along with full-time jobs in most cases, is too heavy. They were quietly heroic and a number of callers said the call prevented them from committing suicide.
In the letter she received last week, Ms Frazer is told that masses of ordinary workers, including nurses, teachers and IT contractors, cannot afford the sums of money demanded by HMRC for to have used tax provisions which, at the time, had been declared legal to them.
“There is an urgent need for the government to face the reality of the loan fees on what will happen if HMRC enforces it”, warns Mr Packham
“The Treasury and HMRC know full well that proceeding without change will have devastating consequences, with a very real possibility of further suicides. [So ] it is a chance for Lucy Frazer and the government to show both compassion and common sense ”.
“Harassment of HMRC”
Last night, LCAG advised those facing angst over loan fees or “harassment from HMRC” to contact their own MP at their local constituency office.
But the volunteer-run group also said that people who feel suicidal about the loan fees should, from now on, call the Samaritans (116,123) or the National Suicide Prevention Helpline (0800 689 5652).
At the time of writing, HMRC only operates a hotline for disguised pay clients on 0300 322 9494, but its stated purpose is not to advise or support those in distress.
“If you think you will have difficulty paying off the debts owed, there are options to make paying loan fees more manageable,” HMRC said. “If you are unable to pay in full and need a payment plan, contact [us on] the… helpline.