Emails To/From Jim Harra during Morse review

Gary Tinker made this Freedom of Information request to HM Revenue and Customs Automatic anti-spam measures are in place for this older request. Please let us know if a further response is expected or if you are having trouble responding.

The request was partially successful.

Dear HM Revenue and Customs,

Please supply a copy of all emails to/from Jim Harra from 1/9/2019 to 4/12/2019
that contain the following phrases :
"disguised remuneration"
"DR-Scheme" or abbreviation such as DR
"Loan Charge" or abbreviation such as LC”

Yours faithfully,

Gary Tinker

Team, FOI, HM Revenue and Customs

Our ref: FOI2022/59249

Dear Gary Tinker,

Freedom of Information Act 2000 Acknowledgement

Thank you for your communication of 25 September.

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

We will arrange for a reply to be sent to you which will either comply
with our 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 Department for answer.

While we aim to respond to all freedom of information requests within 20
working days, if for some reason this timescale cannot be complied with,
we will, where possible, write to you explaining the reason for the delay
and provide an estimated time for response.

Yours sincerely

HMRC Freedom of Information Team

Team, FOI, HM Revenue and Customs

1 Attachment

Dear Gary Tinker,

We are writing in response to your request for information, received 25
September.

Yours sincerely,

HMRC Freedom of Information Team

Dear Team, FOI,

Thank you for your response to my request which you have declined using section 14 of the FOIA.

I note that you mention section 12 of the FOIA, The section 12 exemption applies where the effort required to find the information requested will exceed government guidelines. However you have already identified that there are 500 unique emails in scope thus effectively rendering the use of section 12 exemption not applicable. You also state that you are unable to use section 12 exemption for the effort associated with considering exemption and redaction, with which I agree.

You have then applied a section 14 exemption on the following grounds
"Section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act is designed to protect public authorities by
allowing them to refuse any requests which have the potential to cause a disproportionate or
unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress."

Section 14 of the FOI in its entirety
Vexatious or repeated requests.
(1)Section 1(1) does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the request is vexatious.
(2)Where a public authority has previously complied with a request for information which was made by any person, it is not obliged to comply with a subsequent identical or substantially similar request from that person unless a reasonable interval has elapsed between compliance with the previous request and the making of the current request.

In your response you make the following statements
"An authority is unable to apply section 12 (which allows authorities to refuse requests for which the cost of compliance will exceed certain limits) for the cost and effort associated with considering exemptions or redacting exempt information. However, it may apply section 14(1) where it can make a case that the amount of time required to review and prepare the information for disclosure would impose a grossly oppressive burden on the organisation"

At no point in either the ICO guidance or the Dransfield case does the phrase "impose a grossly oppressive burden appear". This is simply an exaggeration by HMRC.

I have also reviewed the ICO guidance on the use of section 14 as well as reading the Dransfield v ICO decision.

Taking the ICO guidance on how to determine whether a request is vexatious step by step.
1. Can the request fairly be seen as obsessive?
It can be seen that this request is specific in its objectives. The FTT decision EA/2022/0049 point 89 stated :-
"We accept, based on previous correspondence, that Mr. Tinker is likely to make further requests or follow up correspondence. We do not think that this has been done unreasonably in the past, and therefore we do not infer that this will be done unreasonably in the future."
2. Is the request harassing the authority or its staff?
It is not intended to harass or cause distress to anyone. The fact that it has been a simple task to identify the emails requested attests to that to some extent.
3. Would complying with the request impose a significant burden in terms of expense and distraction?
It does not impose a significant burden, unless HMRC insist on taking an inordinate amount of time to redact information that it believes that the public does not have a right to see. Much of the redaction relates to section 40 (redacting the names of more junior personnel) which can and is largely automated.
It does also seem rather odd that the most senior person in HMRC sends or receives emails at the rate of more than 7 each working day during the period requested. Clearly of interest in its own right.
4. Is the request designed to cause disruption or annoyance?
The request is simply a request for emails on a very specific subject (Loan Charge). It may cause annoyance to HMRC as the information released might not match statements that HMRC have made publicly. It is not intended to cause annoyance, it is intended to find the truth of whether Sir Amyas Morse was unduly influenced by HMRC during the Loan Charge review period.
5. Does the request lack any serious purpose?
The request has a very specific purpose. It is attempting to discover whether Sir Amyas Morse was influenced in the review he undertook to determine whether the word "Independent" could be removed from the title "Independent Loan Charge Review". Between 50,000 and 100,000 individuals have been affected by this review and sadly at least 9 people have taken their own lives because of the impact of the Loan Charge policy.

In your response you stated
"In this instance HMRC has identified in excess of 500 unique emails within the scope of your request. This encompasses information which is only of limited value because of the wide scope of your request, and that to comply with your request would create a burden by requiring HMRC to spend an inordinate amount of time considering any exemptions and redactions."

It seems that HMRC have already identified which emails might be of use to my enquiry. The enquiry is extremely narrow in scope, covering only a small but key period of time. The fact that on the surface there appear to be so many emails indicates strongly that the management within HMRC also consider the scope of great interest.

I would like to understand how HMRC can determine which information "is only of limited value" when there is clearly such interest in HMRC during this period of time.

Perhaps HMRC could release the emails that they believe are of value to my enquiry?

It is my belief that HMRC are using the judgement from the Dransfield case inappropriately.

However, to perhaps initially narrow the focus of this request I will modify it such that it should not risk invoking either section 12 or section 14 of the FOIA.

Please supply a count of all emails to/from Jim Harra from 1/9/2019 to 4/12/2019
that contain the following phrases :
"disguised remuneration"
"DR-Scheme" or abbreviation such as DR
"Loan Charge" or abbreviation such as LC"”

This should be broken down by month and whether the email was sent or received.

Suggested format
Month Sep Oct Nov Dec
Sent xxx xxx xxx xxx
Received xxx xxx xxx xxx

Please also supply a COPY of all emails between Jim Harra and Beth Russell of HM Treasury from 1/9/2019 to 4/12/2019
that contain the following phrases :
"disguised remuneration"
"DR-Scheme" or abbreviation such as DR
"Loan Charge" or abbreviation such as LC"

Yours sincerely,

Gary Tinker

Team, FOI, HM Revenue and Customs

Our ref: FOI2022/65275

Dear Gary Tinker,

Freedom of Information Act 2000 Acknowledgement

Thank you for your communication of 18 October.

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

We will arrange for a reply to be sent to you which will either comply
with our 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 Department for answer.

While we aim t o respond to all freedom of information requests within 20
working days, if for some reason this timescale cannot be complied with,
we will, where possible, write to you explaining the reason for the delay
and provide an estimated time for response.

Yours sincerely

HMRC Freedom of Information Team

Team, FOI, HM Revenue and Customs

1 Attachment

Dear Gary Tinker

The date that the response is due for your request, FOI2022/65275, has
been changed to 14th December

Kind Regards

HMRC Freedom of Information team

Team, FOI, HM Revenue and Customs

1 Attachment

Dear Gary Tinker,

We are writing in response to your request for information, received 18
October.

Yours sincerely,

HMRC Freedom of Information Team

Dear Team, FOI,

Thank you for your response to request FOI2022 65275 which has provided much evidence of the lack of independence of the Morse review.

I am however disappointed that HMRC have not supplied the complete emails. In most of the emails provided the subject line indicates that the email is a reply/forwarded (being prefixed with 'RE:' or 'FW'), but the associated email which would have appeared in the Jim Harra's or Beth Russell's mail has not been provided.

Please provide the complete email/email-trail that are being exchanged.

I note that you have also used section 36 of the FOIA to withhold a portion of Email 11 and the associated attachment. I would challenge the use of this exemption particularly as it relates to lessons learned from the loan charge debacle.

I would ask that you reconsider this decision as it would be very pertinent to my research to understand what HMT/HMRC have learned about this subject . I am certain that many interested parties would also like to see this. Please also provide a copy of the signed/dated document that approves use of withholding this information under a public interest test. It is not credible that Beth Russell would not be aware that this email and associated document may be the subject of an FOI request, indeed in EMAIL2 she states explicitly 'We may well have to release this under FOI at some point.' when referring to another attachment.

You state
'If such information were to be disclosed, sensitive issues might not be able to be raised in
the future, for fear that information about such issues might be disclosed and be exposed
prematurely to public scrutiny and comment. Disclosures of this information would likely
undermine the quality and nature of this dialogue in the future and would not be in the public
interest.'

I can understand such thinking. However one of the purposes of the FOIA is to allow transparency as to how decisions are made and why. This is particularly so when there is such interest in the failings of the loan charge policy and the life changing effect (in some cases suicides) that have resulted from it.

Sharing the learnings from this policy and it implementation more widely should surely be in the public interest. To repeat myself, I would ask that you release the email 11 and associated attachment.

Yours sincerely,

Gary Tinker

Team, FOI, HM Revenue and Customs

Our ref: IR2023/00406

Dear Gary Tinker,

Freedom of Information Act 2000 Acknowledgement

Thank you for your communication of 6 January.

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

We will arrange for a reply to be sent to you which will either comply
with our 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 Department for answer.

While we aim to respond to all freedom of information requests within 20
working days, if for some reason this timescale cannot be complied with,
we will, where possible, write to you explaining the reason for the delay
and provide an estimated time for response.

Yours sincerely

HMRC Freedom of Information Team

Dear Team, FOI,

I note that you have allocated a reference indicating that this is an internal review

Please be advised that I did not request an internal review
Please answer the questions as submitted

Yours sincerely,

Gary Tinker

Dear Team, FOI,

On the 5/2/2023 I wrote the following

I note that you have allocated a reference indicating that this is an internal review

Please be advised that I did not request an internal review
Please answer the questions as submitted

Please confirm that this this is being treated as an FOI request and NOT an internal review

Yours sincerely,

Gary Tinker

Dear Team, FOI,

I did not request an Internal Review. for FOI2022/59249 or FOI2022 65275
You appear to have misread my request as a request for an internal review

You will see clearly that I have not.

Please respond to the request for providing the email chains in their entirety

Yours sincerely,

Gary Tinker

Team, FOI, HM Revenue and Customs

Our ref: FOI2023/09457

Dear Gary Tinker,

Freedom of Information Act 2000 Acknowledgement

Thank you for your communication of 12 February.

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

We will arrange for a reply to be sent to you which will either comply
with our 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 Department for answer.

While we aim to respond to all freedom of information requests within 20
working days, if for some reason this timescale cannot be complied with,
we will, where possible, write to you explaining the reason for the delay
and provide an estimated time for response.

Yours sincerely

HMRC Freedom of Information Team

Team, FOI, HM Revenue and Customs

1 Attachment

Dear Gary Tinker,

We are writing in response to your request for information, received 12
February.

Yours sincerely,

HMRC Freedom of Information Team