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Oral Question: Inland Revenue Department

Oral Question: Inland Revenue Department--Tax Collection Procedures

Wednesday 16th Jun 1999

Rodney Hide

Media Release -- Economy

9. RODNEY HIDE (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Revenue: Has he any concerns that IRD officers with hardened attitudes may be driving taxpayers to suicide by the over-vigorous pursuit of debt; if not, why not?

Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Revenue): I am, of course, concerned *about any suggestion that the actions of a Government agency may drive a person to suicide, though I do not accept the assertions at their face value. Some of the taxpayers to whom reference has been made have been pursued by other creditors, as well as by the Inland Revenue Department. In some cases the department has been invited by other creditors to pursue the bankruptcy proceedings on their behalf. Both of these things tell us that these people have been running businesses that have been failing. So that may be a contributing factor to their personal distress.

Rodney Hide: Would the Minister change his answer if he were to learn that it is being claimed that an Inland Revenue Department officer was responsible for five taxpayers killing themselves and that the officer had bragged around the office that this showed how good he was at his job?

Hon. BILL ENGLISH: I would be concerned about any such assertion, but I also suggest to the member that such allegations in no way make it credible. In any number of similar allegations the facts have not stood up to anything like the interpretation the member tends to put on them.

Mark Peck: Is the Minister concerned that the culture within the department is such that taxpayers with problems are having extreme difficulty in getting them resolved; if so, what will the Minister do to ensure that his staff start to treat taxpayers like people?

Hon. BILL ENGLISH: Again I would be concerned if there is a perception of unfairness, or that the department is not dealing with people in an even-handed way. But I also remind the House, as I have with a number of these questions, that the job of collecting tax from those who are reluctant to pay, or from those whose business is failing, is not an easy one. In fairness to all those taxpayers who extend their overdraft, sell stock, or mortgage their house in order to meet their obligations, the Inland Revenue Department has to be firm and consistent with all taxpayers.

Ian Revell: Is the Minister confident that the Finance and Expenditure Committee inquiry will come up with practical recommendations about some Inland Revenue Department attitudes and practices?

Hon. BILL ENGLISH: I am confident that the inquiry will--it is being well chaired. The committee is likely to come up with useful recommendations provided it carefully weighs up the important balances that we need to preserve in the tax system between consistency and discretion, between firmness and fairness. I hope that members of that committee will continue to pursue those issues with the diligence they have and not get too distracted by wild allegations or old vendettas with the department.

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