We trust government and businesses to keep our data safe. Naturally, they fail occasionally. Sometimes, the Information Commissioner's Office gets involved and big companies get fined for spectacular breaches of GDPR. However, when it comes to our tax affairs, you would like to think that HMRC have got their act together...
Consequently, it was a bit chastening to read last week that HM Revenue & Customs sacked 40 members of staff for breaches of data security and issued written warnings to 95 in 2020-21. More than 200 workers have been fired for misconduct relating to data security since 2016, figures obtained by under the Freedom of Information Act by the Daily Telegraph, showed, but it's a problem that's getting worse, with HMRC formally disciplining more staff for failing to protect taxpayers' data last year than at any point in the past five years. In total, 135 members of their staff were fired or given a written warning about data security in the past 12 months.
It is likely that this increase in related to the greater risks associated with working from home.
In total, HMRC has "let go" almost 770 members of staff over the past five years for a variety of offences. Around 70 of these went because of issues with their own tax affairs or benefit claims, while about another 30 were let go for misconduct relating to payroll, including for misuse of expense accounts. However, the majority (more than 300) were asked to leave over “conditions of service”, such as not turning up to work.
In additional some 74 got the sack because of issues in their private lives – a topical subject at the moment! – while more than 40 were fired for "failing to heed rules on internet, email and telecoms use," which covers a multitude of potential sins.
That said, the vast majority of HMRC's staff are, as we'd hope, dedicated and professional. But with almost all businesses having had a really hard time due to the pandemic, it's incumbent on the government to ensure that our data, especially as it concerns our private earnings and tax affairs, are kept just that - private!
Vivian Linstrom, M&S Accountancy & Taxation