Information Powers: Computerised Records: Introduction
FA88/S127 ensures that HMRC’s existing information powers include records held on computer. It allows HMRC the same access to records held on computer as would be allowed if the records were paper documents.
The usual powers available are
- For ITSA enquiries: TMA70/S19A
- For CTSA enquiries: FA98/SCH18/Para27
- Where the SA powers are not appropriate: TMA70/S20
Each power enables you to obtain
- documents, and/or
- information (referred to as ‘accounts or particulars’ in S19A and just ‘particulars’ in S20 (1) ).
The difference between documents and information/particulars is referred to in general at EM10200. It can be particularly important to distinguish between the two when obtaining computer records.
The normal meaning of the word ‘document’ is extended to cover computerised records by FA88/S127 which defines ‘document’ as including anything in which information of any description is recorded. An ‘electronic’ document is the physical object used to store the information. It might be
- the actual computer or server
- magnetic tape, optical disk or hard disk
- an existing CD or floppy disk holding backed up information
- a disk holding scanned printed documents.
Copies of Documents
Each of the information powers contains a provision that a copy of a document can be supplied instead of the original. For an electronic document a copy includes anything onto which information recorded in the document has been copied - FA88/S127 (1). So, for computerised records, if a CD is requested the information on the CD can be copied to a second CD in order to comply with our production notice. Equally the information may be printed out. Where the copy provided does not meet our requirements, which could be the case with a printed copy, we have the right to see the original document and take a copy of it ourselves. The original electronic document can be requested and a copy then made in electronic form (S19A (3) (b) and Para27 (3) (b)).
For CTSA only there is an extension of the word ‘information’. Paragraph 27 allows you to seek information ‘in such form’ as you may reasonably require. So in a company enquiry you could ask, for example, for an analysis of information from the accounts to be supplied in electronic CSV format. In your notice you will need to clearly specify the format and, if necessary, the technical details to ensure that you can properly read the information supplied. This extended power may be useful where it is not possible for a company to supply a suitable electronic version of its records.
Reasonableness of Specifying Computerised Format
It may be convenient and more cost efficient for a business to supply the records in electronic form especially where large volumes of records are concerned. For your part, you may have good reason to want to use an interrogation programme to examine the records. In deciding on a particular format, you must take care to ensure that your request is reasonable. It may be helpful to discuss the form you require the information to take with the taxpayer beforehand. Consider involving your local Data Handling Specialist (see EM2801) in these discussions as they can offer advice both to the enquiry officer and the taxpayer on the best way to supply the electronic information. Often, the production of information electronically may actually be less burdensome, but you should consider carefully any representations the taxpayer makes. If you are unable to reach an agreement, you should balance the benefits to HMRC against any additional burden on the taxpayer, before proceeding with the issue of a notice.