Old versions of tax law on government website – an update

Last week HM Revenue & Customs apologised for linking to some very old legislation, in a guidance note on new criminal offences, and removed the offending links. HMRC guidance at GOV.UK does not normally include statutory references, but if that is going to change there is a clear risk that the same mistake will be made again.

Legislation.gov.uk is described as “the official place of publication for newly enacted legislation”. Great care is needed in relation to older tax legislation, including some of the major consolidation Acts.

For example, go to Income Tax Act 2007 and you’ll see a prominent warning about an apparently very large number of changes that have not yet been processed.

There are also some Acts for which Legislation.gov.uk provides only the original version – for technical reasons, according to the website.

I’ve discussed this lack of progress with The National Archives. “Expert participants”, mainly from the public sector, are helping to update the legislation and have “substantially increased the resources we have available to update legislation”, a spokesperson said.

“Over the past few years, we have gone from having around 50% of all primary legislation held on the site being fully up to date to over 93% today. We are also now ‘keeping up to date’ that 93% going forward at the same time as work continues on the remaining 7%.  However, much of the remaining legislation to be brought up to date is large and complex and work on that content is likely to be ongoing for the remainder of this year,” the spokesperson said, adding that “keeping up to date” here means, broadly, “applying the update within three months”.

The “small number” of Acts that are still published in their original form include Taxes Management Act 1970, setting out taxpayers’ obligations and HMRC powers, penalties for non-compliance etc. National Archives lists these Acts as follows:

Taxation of Chargeable Gains Act 1992

Capital Allowances Act 1990 *

Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988

Taxes Management Act 1970

* Capital allowances law was rewritten by CAA 2001, and I await confirmation that CAA 2001 (not 1990) is being updated.

I asked National Archives to explain the delay and indicate when this work might be completed. The spokesperson said:

“The reason for this gap in our coverage dates back to when the original Statute Law Database was set up in the early 1990s. At the time there was an understanding that these Acts could be obtained in updated form from HMRC but unfortunately that was not possible in the end. Now that we are nearly fully up to date with all other primary legislation we are in a position to accelerate work on these missing Acts.

“Preparatory work has begun on [TCGA 1992, CAA 1990 (sic), TMA 1970] and the update of [ICTA 1988] from 1988 to 2002 is currently forecast to be completed this Autumn at which point we will commence work on the updates from 2003 onwards. To give you an idea of the size of the task, ICTA alone requires the application of over 13,000 effects to bring it fully up to date. This being the case I am afraid we aren’t in a position to give any definite timescales for the completion of the update on all these Acts but we are keen to fill this gap as soon as we can practically do so.”

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