Greg Wright: It’s time to scrap ‘draconian’ loan charge that is driving honourable workers to despair

AS you turn off the light tonight, spare a thought for members of the Loan Charge Action Group, who will be facing hours of sleepless anguish.

Parliamentary opposition to the loan charge continues to grow. Photo : Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

They include a man who contacted me last week, saying he had been pushed over the edge by a Government policy that has been denounced as “devastating” and “draconian” by MPs.

The man said: “I did consider suicide in my darker thoughts; but this was instantly dismissed due to the effect on my wife and kids; whether monetary or the effect of losing a husband or father. The charge has been a personal hell for me.”

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Another loan charge campaigner said: “I have been struggling to function, feel helpless, break down and cry in public and have had time off from work. I feel like a criminal and I have always been a law-abiding citizen and role model.”

Few Government policies have attracted such a chorus of cross-party dissent. The loan charge was introduced in response to the Treasury’s concerns about “disguised remuneration schemes” which involved individuals being paid through loans, usually via an offshore trust in a low or no tax jurisdiction, which they did not have to repay.

According to the Treasury, the loan charge means people paying themselves through loans will have to contribute their “fair share” to pay for our public services.

HMRC has said it is committed to providing affordable payment arrangements to people paying the charge.

Workers from a wide range of professions - including locum doctors and nurses - have been hit with unexpected tax bills of up to tens of thousands of pounds dating back to 1999.

Dozens of MPs -including Justine Greening - have said HMRC’s approach to the loan charge has been punitive.

Ms Greening said: “For some constituents, it has essentially grouped up to 20 years of charges and lumped them into one big sum that they are now being asked to pay.”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Loan Charge (APPG) argues that the charge is retrospective, overrides taxpayer protections and undermines the rule of law.

The conclusion to the APPG’s comprehensive report into the loan charge states: “In the vast majority of cases examined, these arrangements were not entered as aggressive tax avoidance, but after professional advice.

“A substantial number of people, especially in the public sector, did not even understand their pay involved loan payments. Worst of all, the evidence seen and heard by the APPG shows there is a clear risk to the mental welfare of people facing the Loan Charge, including a known suicide risk.”

In response, Mel Stride MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said most MPs had acknowledged that they had no time for aggressive and contrived tax avoidance.

Mr Stride also said there was a “commonly held misconception” that the loan charge is retrospective.

He added: “Some of the other misinformation includes the idea that thousands upon thousands of taxpayers are about to be made bankrupt. HMRC very, very rarely has a situation where somebody is placed in bankruptcy. HMRC has publicly stated that nobody will lose their primary residence as a consequence of settling their loan charge liability.”

So far, 176 MPs - including 65 Conservatives - have signed an open letter to Mr Stride calling for an immediate suspension of the loan charge and an independent review. The Government should listen to them.

The loan charge campaigners who have contacted me all tell a similar story; they organised their financial affairs in line with advice provided by experts and their employer.

They were told the schemes were “HMRC compliant, and approved by top QCs”. They had no desire to avoid their duties as tax payers. Many did not know their pay involved loan payments.

One loan charge campaigner told me: “I have thought of suicide as a way out of this. I do not know if I will get to keep my house.”

Another said: “My husband is the most honest man I’ve ever met. He only used these schemes to get paid, recommended by his accountant. How can this cruelty be allowed?”

Instead of ruining the health and finances of honourable people, why doesn’t the Treasury focus on the shadowy, wealthy operators who promote “aggressive and contrived tax avoidance”?

You can bet they are sleeping soundly tonight.