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HMRC internal manual

Compliance Operational Guidance

Our Conduct and Behaviour: information disclosure and confidentiality: notebooks

Detailed guidance can be found at IDG40100 about how you can make disclosures in a way that is lawful and proportionate.

The rules governing disclosure of information mean that when you are asked to disclose information you must consider each case individually. Historically, caseworker’s notebooks used to record details of compliance checks were ‘internal’ documents and not shared with customers. However, the key issue is whether the person has a right of access, or not, to the information under the Data Protection Act (DPA)

The DPA applies to personal data, which is information relating to an identifiable, living individual. If the request you receive fulfils this criteria then you must follow the release of information guidance.

When dealing with businesses, any requests made under DPA are more likely to occur where there is a sole proprietor, or perhaps a small partnership. Information requests for anything bigger will typically not be personal data, unless it is a fact about a specific individual in the company.

Once you have clarified whether any personal data is involved, the next point to consider is whether the information relates to more than one individual. If the answer is yes and you cannot blank out, or ‘redact’, details to protect the identity of the other individual or individuals, you would need to consider whether it was ‘reasonable in all the circumstances’ to disclose the information. The main factor to consider here is the duty of confidentiality we have to the other individual or individuals, as set out in Section 18 of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act (CRCA) 2005.

For circumstances where HMRC can disclose information to a third party without the person’s consent refer to IDG40300.

The final point to consider is whether an exemption applies, prohibiting you from releasing certain personal data. Section 29 of the DPA includes an exemption for where disclosure would prejudice the assessment or collection of tax. Do not use this in a blanket fashion though; look at each piece of information separately and make a judgement whether there is likely to be prejudice.

There is also an exemption covering legal privilege. (This content has been withheld because of exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act 2000)

Note that the right of access under the DPA is to information, not documents. This means that you do not have to provide a copy of the actual document, such as hand written notes, although you are free to do so. As long as you disclose what information you need to, you will have complied with the DPA.