AS the politicians don their warpaint and head out to the hustings, thousands of people face an agonising wait to see if they will have to pay tax demands on a life-changing scale.
Next month - at the height of the hurly burly of the election campaign - Sir Amyas Morse is due to deliver the findings of his independent review into the loan charge, a controversial policy which has been linked with a number of suicides. The review was ordered by the Chancellor after MPs denounced the policy as retrospective and overriding taxpayer protections - claims which have previously been disputed by the Treasury.
The loan charge has left thousands of people facing large tax demands on income dating back 20 years. 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.
MPs have collected evidence to support their claims that the vast majority of people facing the loan charge are not tax dodgers. Far from it. They are model citizens who acted on professional advice.
The Loan Charge All Party Parliamentary Group, which is calling for a suspension of all activity linked to the charge, recently wrote to Sir Amyas Morse, who is leading the loan charge review, stating that the group has been informed of another suicide of someone facing the charge.
The APPG said: “This is the seventh suicide of someone facing the loan charge that has been reported to and confirmed to the Loan Charge APPG.”
The decision to hold an election in December means that under the current timetable, Sir Amyas’ report will spring up in a political no man’s land; at a point when the party leaders are slugging it out around the country and every conversation is dominated by Brexit.
It will be at least a month before a new Government can act on the report’s contents. This fact strengthens the case for suspending the loan charge and widening the time-scale and scope of the review.
Boris Johnson could win thousands of votes by ordering HMRC to suspend all loan charge activity, at least until the report is debated by MPs.
Mr Johnson might also, for example, ask Sir Amyas to see if steps could be taken to improve interactions with vulnerable people. HMRC has already set up a disguised remuneration helpline, which can provide details of organisations such as the Samaritans and Mind, and said it is committed to treating everyone it serves with respect and sensitivity.
It’s also important that the report - and the way in which the loan charge saga has been handled by the Government - is scrutinised by the Treasury Select Committee.
Mel Stride, who has been elected as the committee’s chairman, played a major role in introducing the loan charge in his previous role as a Treasury minister.
Last week, Mr Stride said that “when the (loan charge review) report is published I think that it is highly likely that the committee will wish to look further into the recommendations and issues that it may raise. I would work very positively with the committee to that end”.
He added: “I would approach all consideration of the Government’s policies in relation to disguised remuneration in an entirely fair and open-minded spirit.”
One of the best ways of gaining an insight into the thoughts of our political leaders is to follow them on Twitter. Sadly, I am completely in the dark about the contents of Mr Stride’s Twitter feed. He has blocked me from following him.
Mr Stride has reportedly also blocked a number of people who have questioned the legitimacy of the loan charge policy, including Iain Campbell, the secretary general of the Independent Health Professionals Association, which represents locum doctors and NHS agency workers.
Over the next few weeks, canvassers will be knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors. Any leader who promises to provide justice for the 50,000 people who are caught up in the loan charge scandal will enhance their chances of collecting the keys to Number 10.