Tax laws ‘could breach human rights’
ARCHAIC laws preventing married women from discussing their tax affairs without their husband’s consent are discriminatory – and the government could face legal action, a lawyer has said.
Advocate Barbara Corbett, of Corbett Le Quesne, said the law was, obviously, discriminatory but the government was exempt from any legal action under the Discrimination Law (Jersey) 2013, thanks to a caveat in Schedule 2. It states that discrimination is not committed if the act is upheld by an existing law.
However, she said the tax laws could breach human rights legislation.
She added: ‘There may be human rights claims under the Human Rights (Jersey) Law 2000 for a declaration of incompatibility. The difficulty with that is all such claims need to be made to the Royal Court by someone who is affected.’
Islanders have reacted angrily this week because married women have been unable to use the government’s new online tax return service. In Jersey, laws that date back to the 1920s stipulate that married women can only deal with tax issues if their husbands first notify Revenue Jersey – previously known as the Taxes Office.
Changes to the old law are due to be debated next week but, until then, married women can only file their own tax return if they have opted for a separate assessment from their husband. The new online form follows the same legal requirements as the paper form.
Deputy Montfort Tadier this week issued a rallying call to married women and lawyers to take legal action against the Treasury for ‘breaching ECHR and Jersey Discrimination Law’.
The tax status of married women is one of a string of issues relating to tax affairs that have angered Islanders in recent weeks.
For months taxpayers have complained that they were either still waiting for their new ITIS rate, have been placed on a much higher rate than expected or have been given an assessment based on their 2017 tax return. Delays have been blamed on ‘glitches’ with moving a new £7.5 million computer system designed by New Zealand software firm DataTorque. It has been used in other small jurisdictions, including Tonga, Samoa and Barbados.
And more recently, Revenue Jersey apologised after ‘fewer than 100 children’ – including a two-year-old and nine-year-old – were sent tax assessment forms due to a ‘human error’.
Islanders have been left confused as to where to send their tax returns, as the paperwork does not include return envelopes or an address. A government spokesperson confirmed that the correct address is Revenue Jersey, PO Box 56, Jersey. Forms can also be handed in at Philip Le Feuvre House in La Motte Street.
The Comptroller of Revenue, Richard Summersgill, said: ‘We previously provided addressed envelopes with paper tax forms and trialled prepaid addressed envelopes last year to see if this would encourage Islanders to file their taxes earlier. However, 20,000 Islanders still filed in the last month before deadline, and 13,000 filed in the last week.
‘With the launch of online filing, we decided not to include an envelope, to encourage Islanders to go online instead of completing the form on paper. This also saves up to £13,500 in the cost of postage and envelopes.
‘We accept that we should have added the postal address to the tax return form, once we decided not to include an envelope with it. This was an oversight and we apologise for the inconvenience.’
Treasury Minister Susie Pinel – who last week said the issues were operational and not political – has said she accepts the criticisms from the public.
Deputy Pinel said: ‘I accept the valid criticisms of some aspects of the taxes operation, which arise from operational problems about which Revenue Jersey has been notifying Islanders for months. Islanders deserve a high-quality and timely service, and once again I would like to share the Comptroller of Revenue’s regret at the delay and the concern that it causes to Islanders whose returns have not yet been assessed.
‘To recap, tax officers have had an enormous amount of additional work to do in 2019 to move from the 35-year-old ITAX system and to input information manually from thousands of paper files into our new Revenue Management System.
‘In order to iron out some glitches, the new system went live a few months later than planned, but still within budget. The impact of this delay, and of staff shortages, is that the assessment of 2018 tax returns is still not complete.
‘I have been receiving regular updates on the situation and what actions are being taken to clear the backlog, and I am very grateful to tax officers for the efforts they are putting into this work, while also implementing and adapting to the modern system.’
'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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