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Sunday, April 24, 2011

'We'll seize possessions from your homes': New threat by tax 'thugs' in second wave of letters to debtors

By Chris Hastings

Richard Tanner, 85, is a regular taxpayer. He has had sleepless nights since receiving the latest HMRC letter last month

HM Revenue & Customs officials were branded ‘thugs’ last week after The Mail on Sunday revealed they had written to tax debtors warning their cars, TVs and computers could be grabbed and sold at auction for a fraction of their value.

MPs condemned the letters, which warned that a £2,000 flatscreen TV could be sold for £200 and an £800 laptop for £100.

Yet now officials have sent further threats, warning people they will have no control over what is taken from their homes.

One letter went to 85-year-old Richard Tanner, a former design engineer who became an MBE for aiding aircraft refuelling during the Falklands War. He is a regular taxpayer and does not dispute owing money – merely the amount.

The new letters, sent from HMRC in Croydon, state: ‘We will now need to take action to collect your tax. We are arranging a visit to your house. We will view your possessions and list those that we will sell at auction.

'Once listed, your belongings will become the property of HM Revenue & Customs. We strongly advise you to avoid this as it will cost you much more to pay this way and can be embarrassing.’

HM Revenue & Customs officials have been branded 'thugs' after they sent letters warning people they will have no control over what is taken from their homes

Mark Warburton, director of accountancy firm Grant Thornton, said last night: ‘HMRC powers were tightened by the last Government in 2009. The system is supposed to ratchet up by stages so it is only repeat offenders who feel the full force, including seizure of goods

But I would not expect the tactics to apply where taxpayers have been in contact with their tax office, either to dispute the tax due or where they are in financial difficulties and have asked for more time to pay.’

Labour MP George Mudie, deputy chairman of the Commons Treasury Committee, urged Ministers to outlaw the threats. He said: ‘I think it is a disgraceful way to treat taxpayers, particularly a man in his 80s.’

HMRC was last night unable to say how many of the letters had been sent.

A spokesman said it had the right to visit a debtor’s home but accepted it could not attempt a forced entry without a court order.

I can’t sleep says victim aged 85

Former design engineer Richard Tanner, 85, said he has had sleepless nights since receiving the latest HMRC letter last month.

‘I don’t think anyone should get letters like this, let alone someone in his 80s,’ he said.
Divorced Mr Tanner, who became an MBE in 1984 for his work on aircraft refuelling during the 1982 Falklands War, has tax deducted from his company pension every month.

But he queried an extra demand made in October after he sent in his self-assessment tax form. Over six months, he claims to have received demands from £1,059 to £4,629.

Mr Tanner, of Okehampton, Devon, said: ‘It is not that I am refusing to pay. I am just querying the amount they say I owe.’



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