THE Scottish Government is pressing ahead with controversial talks about handing over people’s NHS data so that HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) can identify Scottish taxpayers.
Scotland on Sunday can reveal discussions are continuing ahead of the devolution of new income tax powers to Holyrood.
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The talks are being carried out amid concern that it is proving more difficult to pinpoint Scottish taxpayers than expected.
Details of the discussions have emerged in a letter to the Commons public accounts committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge from Edward Troup, second permanent secretary and tax assurance commissioner at HMRC.
In the letter Troup admitted the need to access NHS data was necessary because HMRC is still struggling to identify Scottish income tax payers in time for the new devolved powers to come in next year.
In relation to identifying Scottish taxpayers, Troup wrote: “This has proved more complex than was initially anticipated, which is why the rating for the risk relating to this area of work has increased during the year.”
He then added: “HMRC is exploring the possibility of using third-party data as part of this process working closely with the Scottish Government, in particular in looking at whether HMRC can be given access to NHS Scotland data.”
Explaining the approach, he went on: “We need to be sure that we have thoroughly explored all the available options for improving the accuracy of information we hold.”
HMRC has since told Scotland on Sunday that the talks on getting people’s NHS data are set to conclude on 25 February.
Civil rights groups have hit out angrily at the threat to the privacy of people in Scotland and their medical records.
Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “The public will be shocked the Scottish Government feels it has the right to share such sensitive data based on discussions behind closed doors.
“This proposal must not be railroaded through and if pursued should be open to a thorough public consultation.”
Rachel Robinson, policy officer for rights campaign group Liberty, said: “The sharing of people’s personal data must always be justified – allowing information to flow between health and tax agencies sets a dangerous precedent.”
Last night a Scottish Government spokesman said: “As HMRC makes clear, the introduction of SRIT [Scottish rate of income tax] is proceeding on schedule and Revenue Scotland is ready to collect Land and Buildings Transaction Tax and Scottish Landfill Tax from 1 April.
“Implementing the Scottish rate of income tax, identification of Scottish taxpayers and administering the tax are all matters for the UK government and HMRC.
“There are no proposals to share medical records and any suggestion of that is simply wrong.
“The Scottish Government is responsible for ensuring good value for money, as we are funding the SRIT implementation project costs. We are providing resources to support that responsibility – including drawing on expertise from our finance, procurement and legal departments, as well as Revenue Scotland – to ensure HMRC is delivering value for money.
“A consultation is ongoing as to whether HMRC should be allowed to access administrative data to assist identification of where people should pay tax.
“No decision has been taken.”