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Equity beats off HMRC data grab

21 June 2013

Equity holds a huge amount of personal and sensitive data about members and puts the highest priority on ensuring that it is never improperly accessed, especially in this age of growing state snooping where citizens’ lives are increasingly open to scrutiny by Government agencies.

So when HMRC, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, instructed Equity to hand over our data base of membership information so that Government officials could check whether you were registered tax Equity’s elected Officers and union officials went unto legal overdrive to defend members from what they saw as unwarranted intrusion into your personal affairs.

HMRC’s letter, which arrived on 29 January, quoted the Finance Act 2011 and demanded that Equity provides relevant data as defined in regulation 15 of the Data-gathering Powers (Relevant Data) Regulations 2012. In plain English, HMRC wanted Equity to hand over its entire register of Equity members.

The General Secretary immediately instructed both solicitors and a barrister and approached civil liberties campaign group Liberty, which Equity is affiliated to, for advice on what Equity saw as an assault on your personal and trade union rights.

In February, on legal advice, Equity registered an appeal against the notice claiming that our membership data base was not covered by the Finance Act 2011. The appeal was not upheld by HMRC.

In March Equity pressed HMRC to clarify how our membership database would help them in their declared purpose of checking that Equity members are registered for tax. When in April HMRC gave that clarification we used their response to allege that they were on a “fishing expedition” and that their request was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

In May HMRC backed off. Equity received a letter from HMRC dated 14 May withdrawing the request for Equity’s data base of members.

The actions Equity took were kept strictly confidential so as not to cause unnecessary alarm to members, but in June Equity General Secretary Christine Payne gave a full report to the Equity Council, which the Council decided should be made public.

“The notice request was entirely unexpected and if it had been made public could have caused enormous distress, concern and confusion to our members,” Christine reported and she indicated that Equity appears to have been singled out by HMRC. “In confidence we raised this with the TUC and they were not aware of any other union being asked to provide this information. We also checked with the Musicians’ Union and they had not been approached.”

The Council acknowledge the work of staff, lawyers and Liberty in fighting off this state intrusion into members’ lives.

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