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Thoughts on “a quick Google” of tax and consumer protection law

When Joe Lycett told the BBC’s You and Yours about his new consumer TV show last month, he mentioned that, following recent correspondence with local councils about car parking fines, he now knows a little bit about the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. He went on to recommend that listeners dealing with an issue “just have a quick Google of that”.

I don’t have any such issue just now but I did Google the regulations and the government’s online version is here. There is a warning – not prominent enough, but it’s there – that “this is the original version (as it was originally made)”.

The regulations are currently available at only in their original, 2008 format. Go to the “more resources” page and you can bring up a list of 37 changes that are not yet reflected in the government’s published version. Not very consumer-friendly, is it.

Some of the amendments were summarised in a Commons Library briefing in 2017, but the authors of the briefing were of course unable to link to the 2008 regulations as amended.

The government seems to want to make current legislation available online, free of charge, and this is a good thing. People should be able to understand the law that governs them, or at least be able to read it. The Consumer Credit Act 1974, also mentioned in the programme, is here. According to the website, this version is “up to date with all changes known to be in force on or before 25 April 2019”.

But the government’s version of the main act setting out taxpayers’ rights and obligations will be 50 (fifty) years old next year. The original Taxes Management Act (TMA) 1970 looks very tidy. It’s now useless, but there remains a risk that people will link to the original, just as HMRC did last year. And the recent report of the loan charge all-party parliamentary group of MPs also linked to the original section 34, which has been amended several times.

TMA 1970 as amended is less tidy. For example, instead of the original section 28 we now have:

Part IIIA Referral of Questions During Enquiry
28ZA Referral of questions during enquiry
28ZB Withdrawal of notice of referral
28ZD Effect of referral on enquiry
28ZE Effect of determination
Part IV Assessment and claims
28A Completion of enquiry into personal or trustee return …
28B Completion of enquiry into partnership return
28C Determination of tax where no return delivered
28G Determination of amount notionally chargeable where no NRCGT return delivered
28H Simple assessments by HMRC: personal assessments
28I Simple assessments by HMRC: trustees
28J Power to withdraw a simple assessment

And instead of section 59 we have sections 59A, 59AZA, 59AA, 59AB, 59B, 59BA, 59BB and so on. Tax professionals have called for a review of the act. In the meantime, taxpayers themselves should be able to read this stuff.