Disclosure of Tax Returns

This week Cameron and other members of parliament disclosed their tax returns to demonstrate that they have not participated in tax avoidance schemes. Nobody found evidence of wrong-doing, although the disclosure identified some tax arrangements as morally unacceptable. Now that some politicians have disclosed tax returns since taking office, there is more pressure to reveal historical information and the net is widening to include other politicians. To what extent has this disclosure set a dangerous precedent, and can it be considered an irresponsible act?

From a recruitment perspective, we already have requirements for credit checks to be performed in some professions as part of due diligence, and occupational health checks have almost become a de facto standard upon commencing employment. Is the disclosure of tax returns, albeit with the best of intentions, the first step towards employers demanding to see tax returns from their employees? Will mistakes made completing tax returns come back to haunt candidates? We have already seen cases where job applicants have written something as a teenager on social media only to have their comments reviewed years later as an indication of their suitability to do a specific job.

Tax returns are supposed to be private and confidential. If someone is under suspicion of abusing the tax system, it is the responsibility of HMRC to investigate and to provide a determination using laws that are in place.

Of course, specific information is needed during the recruitment process to demonstrate a capability to do the job for which candidates are applying, but this does not include information such as date of birth, National Insurance number or full address. An employer doesn’t need these details until after a contract of employment is offered and accepted.

The problem is that job applicants will feel compelled to provide more information than is required. They will think that not providing the details may harm their chances of gaining employment; in other words, they feel they either disclose the personal information requested or lose the opportunity entirely.

Have we reached a point in time where the desire to provide transparency about who we are and what we have done is aiding and abetting people with criminal intent to use our personal information? Conversations about possible opportunities can entice personal details for identity theft and fraud, which are already at an all-time high.