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HMRC internal manual

VAT Small and Medium Enterprises Assurance Manual

Confidentiality: General

It is important to remember that information obtained from a trader under statutory powersis confidential and should only be disclosed to third parties in very limitedcircumstances. This does not include other parties to the supply, as the supply detailsare within the knowledge of both parties. Parliament specifically envisaged that theCommissioners would need to check both sides of the supply. However, if an officer gives aspecific undertaking to a supplier not to disclose the invoice details to the other partyto the supply, it is likely that a court would find that the Commissioners were bound bysuch an undertaking.

In all dealing with businesses, the principles of confidentiality should be followed, andyou should guard against any actions or comments, which may leave the Department open toclaims that it has disclosed information inappropriately. The general rule is that allinformation obtained by the Department is confidential and to be used only for the purposefor which it was obtained and that it must only be disclosed to a third party in verylimited circumstances.

The Department has a particular duty of confidentiality to those businesses’ which are thesubject of its enquiries. To this end, a trader visited for the purpose of obtaininginformation to be used in verifying the VAT records of particular customers or suppliersshould be provided with no indication that those businesses are under investigation.

In certain circumstances, information obtained for matters assigned to HMRC can bedivulged to other Departments. Officers should be familiar with the guidance on exchangeof information in the Information Disclosure Guidance Manual.