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Internal communications issued by Counter-Avoidance department

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Dear HM Revenue and Customs,

HMRC's Counter-Avoidance department issues newsletters/updates on a monthly/periodic basis - which are published on the organisation's intranet for staff to read - and which are then archived for future reference.

Please supply full versions of all newsletters/updates issued by the Counter-Avoidance department, written by either the Director, Deputy Director or a guest/substitute, between January 2018 and March 2021, also ensuring that any junior staff member's names are redacted in order to avoid the identification of individuals and that only senior civil service official's names are retained.

Yours faithfully,

Adam Bridgen

FOI Central Team, HM Revenue and Customs

Our ref: FOI2021/03008

Dear Mr Bridgen,

Freedom of Information Act 2000 Acknowledgement

Thank you for your communication of 5th March 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 Department 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

Dear HMRC FOI Central Team,

You will be well aware of the statutory timescales set out for public authorities to respond to FOI requests, as clearly stated in the Freedom of Information Act 2000, section 10 (Time for compliance with request):
(1)Subject to subsections (2) and (3), a public authority must comply with section 1(1) promptly and in any event NOT LATER THAN the twentieth working day following the date of receipt.

A response to this request was due on 06 April 2021 - it is now 12 days overdue and you are breaking the law by failing to provide a reply within that statutory period of 20 working days.

Please respond immediately - thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Bridgen

FOI Central Team, HM Revenue and Customs

Dear Mr Adam Bridgen

We are writing to apologise for our delay in issuing a response to your
freedom of information request.

Although we do our utmost to comply with the Information Commissioner's
requirement to deal with 90% of requests within 20 working days of
receipt, there are some cases that take longer to process (for example,
because of their complexity). Your information request is taking us more
time than we would like as there are numerous documents we need to prepare
for release.

We want to assure you that we aim to issue our response as soon as we can,
hopefully within the next two weeks.

Kind regards

HMRC Freedom of Information Team

FOI Central Team, HM Revenue and Customs

2 Attachments

Dear Mr Bridgen,

We are writing in response to your request for information, received on 5
March 2021.

Yours sincerely,

HMRC Freedom of Information Team

Dear FOI Central Team,

Thank you for your response of 17 May.

However, you have clearly made a mistake with the range of information disclosed. I asked for full versions of all newsletters/updates issued by the Counter-Avoidance department, written by either the Director, Deputy Director or a guest/substitute, between January 2018 and March 2021. You confirmed in your written response that you have therefore provided all Counter-Avoidance intranet updates written by the Directors, Deputy Directors, or guests substituting for them between January 2018 and March 2021.

The attached file only contains information between 04/01/2018 and 29/03/2019, so please now rectify this oversight and swiftly provide the remaining information (from March 2019 - March 2021) in addition, as originally requested.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Bridgen

HM Revenue and Customs

Dear Mr Bridgen,

We answered your request by providing the information we hold.

We can confirm no Counter-Avoidance newsletters or updates published between 30 March 2019 and March 2021 were written by either the Director, Deputy Director or a guest/substitute.

Regards,

HMRC Freedom of Information Team

Information Rights Unit | Solicitor's Office and Legal Services | HMRC

OFFICIAL

show quoted sections

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 'Internal communications issued by Counter-Avoidance department'.

So - there it is, in black and white, publicly stated and plain for all to see. You 'confirm no Counter-Avoidance newsletters or updates published between 30 March 2019 and March 2021 were written by either the Director, Deputy Director or a guest/substitute' and have therefore 'answered my request by providing the information you hold'.

I am informed by a source within your organisation that this claim is entirely untrue - a falsehood which makes your refusal to disclose either a grave mistake or a deliberate lie.

For the avoidance of any doubt on this matter and to validate my statement above, the file you have already supplied (which contains information between 04/01/2018 and 29/03/2019) includes a number of sections with the title of 'Mary's blog' - written by Mary Aiston, Director of Counter-Avoidance and dated accordingly.

The referenced source confirms that 'Mary's blog' has, contrary to your claim, continued to be published - amongst many other Counter-Avoidance newsletters and updates. You dishonestly state that the latest version of any Counter-Avoidance newsletters or updates you hold is dated 29/03/2019, yet, as a glaring example, 'Mary's blog', written by Mary Aiston, Director of Counter-Avoidance, was published on 12/04/2019, 03/05/2019, 19/06/2019, 05/07/2019 (and regularly ever since) - need I continue?

This appears to be a very serious breach of the Freedom of Information Act - in fact, the only offence in the Act that can constitute a CRIMINAL charge for the individuals and public authorities concerned. From the ICO website: What are the consequences of deliberately preventing disclosure?

"You should ensure that staff are aware that under section 77 of FOIA it is a CRIMINAL offence to deliberately conceal, tamper with or destroy information after it has already been requested. In the rare cases of this happening then individuals may face CRIMINAL prosecution. The offence under section 77 (or regulation 19) is a summary matter, which means it is triable only in the Magistrates’ Court. As can be seen from section 77 and regulation 19, individual employees can be guilty of this offence as well as the authority itself."

I previously asked, in good faith and on the assumption that you had made a mistake with the range of dates, that you rectify this oversight and swiftly provide the remaining information (from March 2019 - March 2021) in addition, as originally requested.

Any failure to do so now will initiate an immediate escalation to not just the ICO, but every other party and media outlet currently investigating the way in which government departments are deliberately and strategically withholding information from the public. A recent online discussion, co-ordinated by the SOAS Influencing Corridors of Power project and openDemocracy, included a panel of politicians and FOI experts who debated and explored the ongoing challenges facing official transparency in the UK and asked what can be done to protect the public's right to know. Amongst those speaking (and who will all be contacted in the event of another refusal to disclose) were:

Lord Clark - Former Cabinet Office minister responsible for producing the white paper that led to the Freedom of Information Act 2000
Jenna Corderoy - Investigative reporter, openDemocracy
David Davis - Conservative MP and former Brexit secretary
Peter Geoghegan - Investigations editor, openDemocracy
John McDonnell - Labour MP and former shadow chancellor
Alison Scott-Baumann - Project lead, SOAS Influencing Corridors of Power project
Michelle Stanistreet - General secretary, National Union of Journalists
Ben Worthy - Senior lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London, and author of 'The Politics of Freedom of Information'

Should you decide to now provide the information I have requested (as I know you have it) then please also supply the reason (or perhaps excuse is a more appropriate word) for withholding it and pretending it did not exist - that should be an interesting read.

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

Yours sincerely,

Adam Bridgen

Harjit Garcha, HM Revenue and Customs

Our ref: IR2021/12241

Dear Mr Bridgen,

Freedom of Information Act 2000 Acknowledgement

Thank you for your communication of 30th May 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 Department for a nswer.

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

Dear FOI Central Team,

It has now been 22 working days since I requested an internal review. Within this period, you have neither responded nor seen fit to provide an explanation or reason for the delay.

This follows an earlier breach of the Freedom of Information Act, where you broke the law by taking 48 working days to respond to my initial request. This infraction was further compounded by withholding information which I know you have, which itself constitutes a criminal offence under section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act.

A recent court victory provides ample proof of the misleading nature and lack of transparency from UK government in their handling of FOI requests, an attitude and behaviour which (in both this request and many others) also appears to be habitually mirrored by HM Revenue and Customs. You are, clearly and publicly, denying me a democratic right and whilst one could speculate as to the likely reasons for these violations, I ask you to abide by the law and allow me to exercise that democratic right by providing the information requested.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Bridgen

FOI Central Team, HM Revenue and Customs

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Bridgen

Please see the attached letter.

Yours sincerely

HMRC FOI team

Dear FOI Central Team,

33 days and counting. Please communicate and justify the reasons for your delayed response - thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Bridgen

FOI Central Team, HM Revenue and Customs

Our ref: IR2021/12241

Dear Mr Bridgen,

Please accept our apologies for the continued delay in issuing our review
response.

We can confirm some information within scope of your request was
inadvertently excluded from release as a result of a miscommunication
between two internal teams. We are sorry for this error.

We are currently preparing this additional material for release and hope
to send it to you within the next two weeks.

Yours sincerely

HMRC Freedom of Information Act Team

Dear FOI Central Team,

The acceptance of any apology (however insincere it appears and sounds at face value) would be wholly conditional on the provision of irrefutable evidence to support that claim. Should you be able to provide full and unredacted documentation to corroborate this 'explanation', in the form of date / time-stamped emails (or similar messaging utilities), visibly demonstrating the exchanges where this 'miscommunication' took place, then I will consider it.

Should you not, then I will form my own conclusions and report this offence accordingly.

Based on your clear and open resistance to disclosure and the forcefully assured - some would even say adamant - comments from your team when I first questioned the range of dates originally provided, any remaining confidence in the prospect of actual truths being proffered in these instances has been seriously diminished.

I nonetheless leave you with this golden opportunity to provide the proof of that 'miscommunication' which you claim prompted this 'inadvertent exclusion'. I can't help but also wonder what would have likely happened had I not myself provided evidential proof that I knew of their existence.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Bridgen

FOI Central Team, HM Revenue and Customs

2 Attachments

Dear Mr Bridgen,

We are writing in response to your request for information, received 30
May.

Yours sincerely,

HMRC Freedom of Information Team

We don't know whether the most recent response to this request contains information or not – if you are Adam Bridgen please sign in and let everyone know.