Tax ‘glitches’: Call for buck to stop with a politician
SOMEONE must take political responsibility for Jersey’s unfolding tax debacle, which has angered and confused hundreds of Islanders, a backbencher has said.
Senator Kristina Moore said the ‘buck has to stop with someone’ and plans to question Treasury Minister Susie Pinel on the issues in the coming weeks. She added that the Chief Minister must also be held to account politically.
But speaking to the JEP, Deputy Pinel said the issues were ‘operational and not political’ and said she would not take responsibility for the mess. The Chief Minister was contacted for comment. Deputy Pinel has seldom spoken about the delays in the tax office – caused by the introduction of a new £7.5m IT system – which has set back the issuing of ITIS rates by months. Instead, Comptroller of Revenue Richard Summersgill has been the spokesperson and last week defended the new computer system saying it was calculating rates correctly, and Islanders were confused or in some cases had not provided the correct information.
For months Islanders have complained that they were either still waiting for their new ITIS rate, have been placed on a higher rate than expected or have had assessments based on their 2017 tax return – which could cause issues for Islanders with fluctuating incomes. It emerged last week that around 9,500 2018 tax returns have yet to be processed.
And this week, a ‘human error’ led to the government accidentally sending tax forms to ‘fewer than 100’ children – including a nine-year-old. And married women have taken to social media too to complain how they are unable to use the government’s new online tax returns system, which was launched this month.
In Jersey, currently, husbands have to give permission for their wives to handle tax affairs. Deputy Pinel said last year she was working to change that law.
Speaking about the issues, Senator Moore, chairwoman of the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel, said Mr Summersgill should consider redacting his statement.
‘You could probably find a number of instances where a politician has had to take ultimate responsibility for an operational failure; take Amber Rudd and the Windrush scandal or health ministers who take political responsibility for clinical failures. At some point the buck has to stop with someone,’ she said.
‘At the end of the day there is and should be an element of direction from politicians. Therefore, whoever is assuming responsibility for this change, and that points to the Chief Minister.’
Senator Moore said she had concerns that by basing some tax assessment on Islanders’ 2017 earnings, it could result in a disparity in forecast income.
‘What effects does that have on budgeting and planning for departments?’ asked the Senator.
A switch to a new DataTorque IT system in the tax office has been blamed for many of the issues with tax assessments. The JEP understands the government invested in a less expensive ‘off the shelf’ system that has had to be adapted to Jersey’s needs rather than a bespoke system.
Mr Summersgill, the Island’s Comptroller of Revenue, acknowledged that there had been ‘glitches’ with the system. Deputy Pinel added: ‘One can only apologise for various glitches but for such a big change it is totally unrealistic to expect everything to come into place without issues.’
Senator Moore added that there had been issues too with the government’s rolling out of new Office 365 software on States Members’ and civil servants’ computers.
The Government Plan outlines more than £100 million of spending on IT systems over the next three years.
Senator Moore added: ‘How can we allow them to spend over £100 million when they cannot roll out something relatively simple like Office 365? I and others are losing confidence in the whole project.
‘There is such a lot of change going on in general and we are seeing greater investment being made in computer systems. So when we don’t see the work being rolled out now as particularly impressive it is certainly not engendering confidence and we certainly have concerns in the continued process.’
'I'm sick to death of going completely around in a circle... we should be telling the public as soon as possible'
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