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Barrister accuses MP of dismissing storm over tax bills

07 June, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Barrister Keith Gordon and Emily Thornberry

A LEADING barrister has censured Emily Thornberry for “taking no regard of human rights breaches” caused by changes to tax law that have left dozens of her constituents in crippling debt.

Keith Gordon, of Temple Tax Chambers, wrote to the Tribune in response to our front-page article last week about Jennifer Graham, from Clerkenwell, who is facing an unexpected tax bill of £48,000 because of “loan charges”.

Ms Graham, a government contractor whose surname we changed at her request, said the bill was “terrifying” and would bankrupt her. Loan charges are retrospective tax bills introduced by the Tory government in the 2017 Budget to close a tax “loophole”. HMRC, the government body which collects tax, has sent out 330 letters to Islington residents this year asking for money tied to income dating back to 1999.

While nearly 200 MPs have called for a review of the tax changes, Ms Thornberry took a harder line, telling the Tribune last week : “On the basic principle, anyone knows that if they are being paid an income, and paying no tax on that income, then they are enjoying the benefits of all the public services we rely on, but unlike the rest of us they are getting them for free, and that is simply not right.”

Mr Gordon said in response that the charge “by-passes” the statutory time limits “which provide some sense of balance in the tax system”.

He added: “Ms Thornberry’s dismissal of her constituent’s concerns is not only at odds with many of her parliamentary coll­eagues, but somewhat surprisingly for a qualified barrister also takes no regard of the human rights breaches caused by the new law.

“These time limits represent an important safeguard which should not be whittled down at whim.”

He added: “What makes matters worse is that HMRC was aware of these arrangements back in 2004 and had formed views as to their efficacy, but failed to communicate these effectively to the outside world, thereby giving taxpayers a false sense of security that they were in fact fully effective.”

David Harrison, from St John Street, whose surname we have changed at his request, has said he is facing a £400,000 loan charge bill from HMRC for his work as a financial contractor between 2004 and 2012.

“It’s absolutely traumatic,” he said. “How on earth can we come up with the money without selling the house?”

He described the Islington South MP’s response as “totally hopeless”, adding: “She’s not paying any attention to the legalities and formed her own view on what’s fair and not fair.”

“All we want is to be judged according to the law which was in place at the time.”

He added that he was “hopeful” there would be a political solution even without his MP’s backing.


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