Emails from/to Mary Aiston or Jim Harra with the words "Disguised Remuneration" and "punishment"

Currently waiting for a response from HM Revenue and Customs, they should respond promptly and normally no later than (details).

Dear HM Revenue and Customs,

Please provide all emails (including the entire email conversation where applicable) where:

any of the emails in the conversation contains the keywords:

("disguised remuneration" OR "DR" OR "Loan Charge" OR "LC" OR any other abbreviations used)
AND
("punish" OR "punishment" OR "penalty" OR "unfair" OR "unfavourable")

The search can be restricted to email conversations where the following officials are involved (as senders and/or recipients):
Jim Harra, Mary Aiston, Ruth Stanier

Should the query return too many results, you can try to add the following restrictions, one by one, until the query produces the correct number of results:
1. remove Ruth Stanier from the list of officers
2. restrict the search to emails sent/received in the period up to the31st of January 2020 (add as many months as you can before that date)
3. remove Jim Harra from the list of officers

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

Matt Smith

FOI Team, HM Revenue and Customs

Our ref: FOI2021/00113

Dear Mr Smith,

Freedom of Information Act 2000 Acknowledgement

Thank you for your communication of 13th January which has been passed to
HMRC's Freedom of Information Team.

We have allocated the above reference which you should quote if you need
to contact us.

The Team will arrange for a reply to be sent to you which will either
comply with HMRC's obligations under Freedom of Information Act or, if we
think it's an enquiry that we don't need to address under the terms of the
Act, let you know why. If it is the latter we will, if possible, pass it
on to a more appropriate part of the Depart ment for answer.

As you will appreciate, the coronavirus pandemic has provided
unprecedented challenges for Government Departments including HMRC. Over
the coming weeks our priorities are to provide critical existing and new
Public Services for Government to support customers during this difficult
time. As a result, resources may be diverted away from usual compliance or
information rights work. HMRC aims to respond to all FOIA Requests within
20 working days. If for whatever reason this timescale cannot be complied
with HMRC will, where possible, write to you explaining the reason for the
delay and providing an estimated time for response.

Yours sincerely

HMRC Freedom of Information Act Team

FOI Team, HM Revenue and Customs

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Smith,

We are writing in response to your request for information, received 13
January.

Yours sincerely,

HMRC Freedom of Information Team

Dear HM Revenue and Customs,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of HM Revenue and Customs's handling of my FOI request 'Emails from/to Mary Aiston or Jim Harra with the words "Disguised Remuneration" and "punishment"' (your reference FOI2021/00113)

I note my request was refused for being "vexatious". Exactly why this would be the case is not properly explained, although the letter seems to suggest my request could be "manifestly unjustified or inappropriate" and/or "impose a grossly oppressive burden".

I do not believe my request should be refused, for the reasons I explain below.

1. The main aim of my request is to examine whether the implementation of the Loan Charge policy has involved any punitive intent. As such it's only fair to ask for relevant emails that include terms such as "punishment", "penalty" etc between a few specified senior officers. This request is very specific and pertinent, and cannot be defined unjustified or inappropriate.

2. As for your claim that my request "impose[s] a grossly oppressive burden", your letter states that "compliance with [my] request would require the searches of 20 different combinations of search terms across three mailboxes for an unspecified period of time". Of course this cannot be true, as any trainee data analyst can create a single query that can extract these results in seconds.

3. You also mention that "given the scope of my request, the amount of information that is likely to be in scope [...] is likely to be very high". This can only be true if you believe there will be a great number of emails containing combinations of words such as "Loan Charge" and "punishment", which in turn is likely to confirm my hypothesis that the policy was characterised by a punitive intent. Given your response, I take you believe this is the case? If so there would be a strong and clear public interest in publishing the data. Alternatively, your estimate is wrong, in which case the search is not vexatious. In any case, you should perform the query to determine how many results it produces, rather than estimating them.

4. I did provide some ideas to narrow the scope of my search, but according to your response, while asking for too many records is "vexatious", asking for less is "scattergun approach". My narrowed query still retains the core elements (i.e. the punitive intent), and progressively restricts the query to one officer (Mary Aiston, in charge of Counter Avoidance, so very relevant to the Loan Charge) and temporally (any period up to 31st of January 2020, the final date to submit a tax return which included the Loan Charge). This narrowed query if very focused and cannot be defined as "completely random approach, lacks any clear focus, or seems to have been solely designed for the purpose of ‘fishing’ for information without any idea of what might be revealed"

For the reasons above I still believe my request to be appropriate, justified and easily manageable. Your refusal to comply may suggest a desire to withhold potentially compromising information, and I will escalate this to the ICO if you decide to reject it again.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/e...

Yours faithfully,

Matt Smith

FOI Team, HM Revenue and Customs

Our ref: IR2021/00244

Dear Mr Smith,

Freedom of Information Act 2000 Acknowledgement

Thank you for your communication of 19th January which has been passed to
HMRC's Freedom of Information Team.

We have allocated the above reference which you should quote if you need
to contact us.

The Team will arrange for a reply to be sent to you which will either
comply with HMRC's obligations under Freedom of Information Act or, if we
think it's an enquiry that we don't need to address under the terms of the
Act, let you know why. If it is the latter we will, if possible, pass it
on to a more appropriate part of the Departm ent for answer.

As you will appreciate, the coronavirus pandemic has provided
unprecedented challenges for Government Departments including HMRC. Over
the coming weeks our priorities are to provide critical existing and new
Public Services for Government to support customers during this difficult
time. As a result, resources may be diverted away from usual compliance or
information rights work. HMRC aims to respond to all FOIA Requests within
20 working days. If for whatever reason this timescale cannot be complied
with HMRC will, where possible, write to you explaining the reason for the
delay and providing an estimated time for response.

Yours sincerely

HMRC Freedom of Information Act Team