The Fianna Fáil Finance Spokesperson Michael McGrath has called on the Minister for Finance to uphold the confidentiality of individuals’ private taxation affairs by allowing tax appeals to continue to be heard in private.
The Government’s new Bill on tax appeals (Finance (Tax Appeals Commission Bill)) proposes to remove taxpayer confidentiality from the appeals process, by abolishing the “in camera rule” for appeal hearings. Taxpayer confidentiality has been central to our tax regime for over 50 years and has worked well. A taxpayer taking an appeal could be small business owner or a parent seeking an incapacitated child tax credit for a special needs child. To force these hearings into a public forum is completely unnecessary and is a disgraceful invasion of privacy. The only logical reason for doing so is to discourage people from taking an appeal.
“If appeal hearings are held in public, a taxpayer will be forced to reveal private business, commercial and financial information in the public domain, at hearings that could be attended by creditors and key competitors. This could be very damaging to businesses, especially small local businesses. We would never accept a situation where social welfare or medical card appeals were held in public. This issue will damage small businesses and the self-employed in particular. They will be very reluctant to bring a tax appeal if that will lead to their local competitors having full access to their financial affairs.
“Tax appeals are currently heard in private, to respect the fact that the most sensitive aspects of a person’s financial affairs will be aired during the appeal. Figures recently released to me by the Minister for finance show that a quarter of tax appeals are upheld, showing that the Revenue Commissioners sometimes get it wrong. In those cases, taxpayers should not be discouraged from taking an appeal, especially where a serious error has been made or an ambiguity in tax rules needs to be clarified.
“Under the current proposal, a taxpayer would have to choose between the privacy of their confidential financial information and challenging a potentially excessive tax bill. While I welcome the prospect of the tax appeal system being modernised, I believe forcing taxpayers to broadcast their personal financial information to the world if they want to query a tax assessment would be completely unfair.”
Deputy McGrath also called on the Minister to review the proposal in the Bill to remove the right of a taxpayer to have a re-hearing of the case at the Circuit Court and stated, “If the Minister’s proposal is adopted, the only recourse a taxpayer would have is to take a case to the High Court on a point of law. This is simply out of reach for the overwhelming majority of small businesses and ordinary taxpayers and again is a further encroachment on the rights of taxpayers in this country.”