More specific request regarding creation of SEISS eligibility criteria

Gwrthodwyd y cais gan Her Majesty's Treasury.

Dear Her Majesty's Treasury,

I previously submitted an FoI request with the reference number FOI2020/24439, which you found to be potentially above the £600 limit for investigation.

I would like to make my request more specific, as suggested.

The following requests are for the period of 16 March 2020 to present:

I would like to see any briefing papers or other written evidence used to reach the decision to
re-open 2018/19 tax returns until 28 April 2020, but also to exclude 2019/20 tax returns from the SEISS.

In particular I would like to see any modelling or analysis relating to the potential for fraud and organised crime to exploit the scheme.

Yours faithfully,

Andrew Keenan

Text of my original request:

“I would like to see any and all documents relating to:

The selection of the eligibility criteria for the Self-Employment Income Support
Scheme (SEISS), in particular the decision to exclude 2019/20 tax returns as
acceptable evidence of income.

I am particularly interested in evidence, models and professional opinions used by
ministers and other decision-makers that informed this decision.

If this request is not appropriately worded, I would be grateful if you could let me
know.”

FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

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eCase@hmtreasury.gov.uk on behalf of FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

Our ref: FOI2020/30069

Dear Mr Keenan,

Thank you for your request for information which we are considering under
the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

This is to confirm receipt of your request and to let you know that it is
receiving attention. If you have any enquiries regarding your request do
not hesitate to contact us.

Please note: HM Treasury has a dedicated email address for the public to
make Freedom of Information requests: [email address]

Yours sincerely

Information Rights Unit | Correspondence and Information Rights | HM
Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ [1]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

Correspondence and Information Rights | HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road,
London, SW1A 2HQ [2]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

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FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

1 Atodiad

Dear Mr Andrew Keenan

 

Please find attached a letter in response to your Freedom of Information
request.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Information Rights Unit | HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A
2HQ   [1]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

 

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Dear FOI Requests,

Thank you for your most recent letter.

I appreciate your suggestion of narrowing the scope of my search, and I'm trying to do so.

You state in an earlier letter the justifications for the exclusion of 2019/20 tax returns:

"However, there would be significant risks for the public purse if the Government relied on these returns for the SEISS. The self-employed can now file returns for 2019-20, but this creates an opportunity for fraudulent activity through returns where no trading activity has taken place, where trading profits have been inflatedto increase the size of the grant, or where trading profits have been reduced to below the £50,000 threshold in order to become eligible. Unfortunately, HMRC would not be able to distinguish genuine self-employed individuals who started trading in 2019-20 from fake applications by fraudulent operators and organised criminal gangs seeking to exploit the SEISS."

I understand the logic of line of reasoning. What I seek is the evidence used to reach it and consider it a balanced decision.

The specific forms of attack can be applied to the late 2018/19 returns, and there are many different fraud attack methods being used on the CJRS and SEISS. Clearly there is a fraud risk associated with including 2019/20 tax returns in the SEISS, as there is a fraud risk with every conceivable tax policy or method.

What I am looking for is the specific threshold of fraud risk (perhaps as a percentage of total cost) that the Treasury considers unacceptable in a coronavirus scheme. Any papers, models, emails or similar that estimate this fraud for the SEISS overall and for including 2019/20 returns - that is what I am looking for.

Thank you,

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Keenan

eCase@hmtreasury.gov.uk on behalf of FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

Our ref: FOI2020/33013

Dear Andrew Keenan,

Thank you for your request for information which we are considering under
the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

This is to confirm receipt of your request and to let you know that it is
receiving attention. If you have any enquiries regarding your request do
not hesitate to contact us.

Please note: HM Treasury has a dedicated email address for the public to
make Freedom of Information requests: [email address]

Yours sincerely

Information Rights Unit | Correspondence and Information Rights | HM
Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ [1]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

Correspondence and Information Rights | HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road,
London, SW1A 2HQ [2]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

References

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1. http://www.gov.uk/hm-treasury
2. http://www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

Dear [email address] on behalf of FOI Requests,

Just wanted to check that this request is still being investigated.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Keenan

FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

Dear Mr Keenan

Thank you for your request for information which we are considering under
the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

In line with our obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, we aim
to reply to FOI requests within 20 working days. The response to your
request is due not later than Thursday 8 October. We will aim to reply to
your request within this deadline.

Please note: HM Treasury has a dedicated email address for the public to
make Freedom of Information requests: [1][email address]

Yours sincerely

Information Rights Unit | Correspondence and Information Rights | HM
Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ  
[2]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

1 Atodiad

Dear Mr Keenan

 

Please find attached HM Treasury’s response to your information request.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Information Rights Unit | Correspondence and Information Rights Team | HM
Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ |
[1]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury 

 

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Dear FOI Requests,

Thank you for your detailed and helpful reply.

I would like to narrow the scope of my request, as suggested.

My previous request was:

"What I am looking for is the specific threshold of fraud risk (perhaps as a percentage of total cost) that the Treasury considers unacceptable in a coronavirus scheme. Any papers, models, emails or similar that estimate this fraud for the SEISS overall and for including 2019/20 returns - that is what I am looking for.”

I would like to make that request but for the time period of 13 March to 13 May 2020, and limited to searching the correspondence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Keenan

eCase@hmtreasury.gov.uk on behalf of FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

Our ref: FOI2020/38418

Dear Mr Keenan,

Thank you for your request for information which we are considering under
the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

This is to confirm receipt of your request and to let you know that it is
receiving attention. If you have any enquiries regarding your request do
not hesitate to contact us.

Please note: HM Treasury has a dedicated email address for the public to
make Freedom of Information requests: [email address]

Yours sincerely

Information Rights Unit | Correspondence and Information Rights | HM
Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ [1]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

Correspondence and Information Rights | HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road,
London, SW1A 2HQ [2]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

References

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1. http://www.gov.uk/hm-treasury
2. http://www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

Dear [email address] on behalf of FOI Requests,

Hello!
What's happening with my FoI? My most recent request was sent in on 19 October (reference FOI2020/38418), although that itself was a clarification of FOI2020/33013

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Keenan

FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

Dear Mr Keenan

In line with our obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, we aim
to reply to FOI requests within 20 working days. The response to your
request is due not later than Monday 16 November. We will aim to reply to
your request within this deadline.

Yours sincerely

Information Rights Unit | Correspondence and Information Rights | HM
Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ  
[1]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear FOI Requests,

Great, thanks

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Keenan

FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

1 Atodiad

Dear Mr Keenan

 

Please find attached HM Treasury’s response to your information request.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Information Rights Unit | Correspondence and Information Rights Team | HM
Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ
| [1]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury 

 

This email and any files transmitted with it are intended solely for the
use of the individual(s) to whom they are addressed. If you are not the
intended recipient and have received this email in error, please notify
the sender and delete the email. This footnote also confirms that our
email communications may be monitored to ensure the secure and effective
operation of our systems and for other lawful purposes, and that this
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Dear FOI Requests,

Thank you for your reply to my FOI request (FOI2020 38418)

In your reply you say:

"Although there is reference in our documentation to the fraud risks associated with aspects of the COVID support schemes, we have not located information meeting the specific terms of your request. "

I would like to further update my request; please release to me to documentation you are referring to in that statement (the documents that reference the fraud risks associated with aspects of the COVID support schemes).

As this has already been found as part of the process of my request, it shouldn't take much additional time to make it available to me.

I note your mention of the fraud risks and the NAO report. I understand the risk of fraud and as a taxpayer I want to minimise the risk of fraud.

However please note that in all existing schemes (CJRS, SEISS, BBL) the risk of fraud has been raised, accepted and the scheme has taken place anyway.

The justification given by the Government - a reasonable and understandable justification, in my view - is that:

"Departments accepted there may be a higher risk of fraud and error than normal, in order to provide rapid financial support and protect jobs".

I just wish that sensible justification could be applied to new schemes, rather than only to schemes that have already left the stable.

I hope you understand that from the point of view of someone excluded from the schemes, it is frustrating that fraud is tolerated in some schemes as unavoidable in pursuit of the greater good, but in others, isn't... and not a single shred of detailed modelling, evidence or justification has been released by HMT to back this up.

A written or verbal statement from the Treasury that they have considered the risk of fraud, without showing their working or providing hard evidence, is not sufficient for a matter of this import.

HMT risks a major false economy, failing to save vital businesses that are viable, skilled, and are crucial parts of the wider supply chain and economy.

Compared to the economic hole that the exclusions will leave, the sum that could be lost to fraud is tiny.

And if you have evidence that proves otherwise, I would love to see it - hence my original request!

Thank you for your hard work in this difficult time,

Andrew

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Keenan

eCase@hmtreasury.gov.uk on behalf of FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

Our ref: FOI2020/42269

Dear Mr Keenan,

Thank you for your request for information which we are considering under
the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

This is to confirm receipt of your request and to let you know that it is
receiving attention. If you have any enquiries regarding your request do
not hesitate to contact us.

Please note: HM Treasury has a dedicated email address for the public to
make Freedom of Information requests: [email address]

Yours sincerely

Information Rights Unit | Correspondence and Information Rights | HM
Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ [1]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

Correspondence and Information Rights | HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road,
London, SW1A 2HQ [2]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

References

Visible links
1. http://www.gov.uk/hm-treasury
2. http://www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

1 Atodiad

Dear Mr Keenan

 

Please find attached HM Treasury’s response to your information request.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Information Rights Unit | Correspondence and Information Rights Team | HM
Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ |
[1]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury 

 

This email and any files transmitted with it are intended solely for the
use of the individual(s) to whom they are addressed. If you are not the
intended recipient and have received this email in error, please notify
the sender and delete the email. This footnote also confirms that our
email communications may be monitored to ensure the secure and effective
operation of our systems and for other lawful purposes, and that this
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Dear Her Majesty's Treasury,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Her Majesty's Treasury's handling of my FOI request 'More specific request regarding creation of SEISS eligibility criteria'.

Specifically, I am dissatisfied with the reasoning presented in the citation of section 35(1)(a) and 'the public interest in protecting the government's ability to discuss and develop policies and to reach well-formed conclusions' and 'protecting information where release would be likely to have a detrimental impact on the ongoing formulation and development of policy'.

The response I received does little to connect these understandable criteria with the evidence I have requested.

I believe the public interest in transparency and accountability outweighs concerns about the formulation of policy, as does the public interest in improving public understanding of issues.

That latter criterion is particularly important. There is significant misunderstanding and confusion in the population about the economic rationale and impacts of the CJRS, SEISS and other support schemes - confusion which is also found in the House of Commons as MPs regularly misstate basic facts about the schemes and their eligibility criteria.

As one of innumerable examples, an MP stated in the House of Commons on 25 November that:

"I do not think that it is right to describe those people as excluded, as 1.5 million of those people are not majority self-employed; they are people who earn the majority of their income from being employed...

"...That decision [regarding SEISS] was made because if someone earns the majority of their income from employment, it is reasonable to assume that they will benefit from the furlough scheme, and that is how the majority of their earnings come in."

However this is demonstrably not a reasonable assumption, as the data the member is referring to is for a financial year that concluded a full year before lockdown commenced. That information simply does not enable differentiation between people who had two incomes in parallel during FY2018/19, and those who had two incomes in series (leaving one job then commencing self-employment).

Given the fact that the number of newly-self-employed people each year exceeds the number of people who have multiple sources of income, there is no sound logic that results in the conclusion that these individuals had stable (non-self) employment in Feb/Mar 2020 from which they could be furloughed.

This fallacy has been repeated by Government ministers and spokespeople several times, despite clear counter-evidence presented to the Treasury Committee by professional bodies.

This is just one single example of the widespread misconceptions and misunderstandings around the SEISS criteria that pollute our national discourse and decision-making on this topic. This is exacerbated by the ever-evolving and shape-shifting rationales given at present, arguably an artefact of limited release of information such as that I am requesting.

Matters of fraud risk, technical challenge, policy decision, ongoing upgrades to policy, the tax affairs of individuals, the discretion of local authorities, and even the core reasoning for the CJRS and SEISS (to save companies? to save jobs? to protect consumer spending?) have become a jumbled and inconsistent mess of reasoning that desperately needs clarity and objective evidence.

I consider it extremely important for the effective scrutiny, transparency and accountability of these public authorities that this information be released, to enable informed and evidenced debate on these matters.

On this matter, the economic stakes are unimaginably high for hundreds of thousands of families, and consequently for the UK economy overall. It is critically important that the information be released, so MPs, economists, analysts and the public at large can continue their critical job of navigating this economic crisis fully-armed with all of the relevant information and intelligence.

For that reason I request a review of this decision.

Thank you,

Andrew

FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

Dear Mr Keenan

Thank you for your email regarding your request for an internal review.

I can confirm that your review request was received on 10 December and is
receiving attention under our reference IR2020/45432.
There is no statutory deadline for responding to internal review requests.

However, in line with the Information Commissioner’s guidelines and the
2018 FOI Code of Practice, we aim to complete  internal reviews within 20
working days.

Yours sincerely

Information Rights Unit | Correspondence and Information Rights | HM
Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ  
[1]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear FOI Requests,

Hello, any update on this review?

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Keenan

FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

Dear Mr Keenan

Thank you for your email enquiring on your Internal Review request,
reference IR2020/45432. We apologise for the delay and we expect to
respond within the next 5 working days.

If you have any enquiries regarding your request do not hesitate to
contact us.

Please note: HM Treasury has a dedicated email address for the public to
make Freedom of Information requests: [1][email address]

Yours sincerely

Information Rights Unit | Correspondence and Information Rights | HM
Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ  
[2]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

FOI Requests, Her Majesty's Treasury

1 Atodiad

Dear Mr Keenan

 

Please find attached HM Treasury’s response to your request for an
internal review. We apologise for the delay in providing this to you.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Information Rights Unit | Correspondence and Information Rights Team | HM
Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A
2HQ | [1]www.gov.uk/hm-treasury 

 

This email and any files transmitted with it are intended solely for the
use of the individual(s) to whom they are addressed. If you are not the
intended recipient and have received this email in error, please notify
the sender and delete the email. This footnote also confirms that our
email communications may be monitored to ensure the secure and effective
operation of our systems and for other lawful purposes, and that this
email has been swept for malware and viruses.

References

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