Tax evasion, border control, and school governors: Prime Minister's Questions, factchecked

14 April 2016

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Tax evasion and avoidance

“The government is committed to taking £400 million out of HMRC’s budget by 2020.”—Jeremy Corbyn

“At the Summer Budget in 2015 we gave an extra £800 million to HMRC to fund additional work to tackle evasion and non-compliance between now and 2021. This is going to enable HMRC to recover a cumulative £7.2 billion in tax over the next five years…”—David Cameron

“Mr Speaker, I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. The only problem with it is that the Red Book states HMRC spending will fall from £3.3 billion to £2.9 billion by 2020.”—Jeremy Corbyn

Mr Corbyn is right to say that day-to-day spending by HMRC is set to fall by around £400 million, from £3.3 billion in 2015/16 to £2.9 billion in 2020/21, according to the latest spending plans.

Accounting for inflation, that’s a fall of £600 million.

This money includes £800 million pledged to HMRC by the government in summer 2015 to be spent over the course of the Parliament for work on non-compliance and tax evasion. That was predicted to bring in £2.8 billion a year by 2020/21—a cumulative £7.2 billion over the next five years—although that’s a pretty uncertain estimate.

“Why is the Prime Minister cutting HMRC staff by 20%...?”—Jeremy Corbyn

“Let me give him the figures for full time equivalents in the HMRC in terms of compliance the numbers are going from 25,000 in 2010 to 26,798 in 2015.”—David Cameron

Both these claims are about correct, although we haven’t been able to back up the specific figures the Prime Minister used.

The total number of staff working for HMRC fell from around 67,000 in March 2011 to 57,000 in March 2015. There are plans to reduce the total number of staff further, to 52,000 this year. That would be a fall of about 22% compared to 2011.

As the Prime Minister says, the number of people working in “enforcement and compliance” has risen. It’s up from about 25,500 in March 2011 to 26,200 in March 2015.

These are the figures HMRC pointed us to, but they don’t quite match Mr Cameron’s numbers, and they go back to 2011 rather than 2010. We’ve asked HMRC if it can help us.

Compliance is about making sure the correct amount of money is collected from taxpayers, including acting against tax avoidance and evasion.

In this roundup, we’re using ‘full-time equivalent’ numbers for the number of staff.

“3,250 DWP staff have been specifically investigating benefit fraud. Whilst only 300 HMRC staff have been systematically investigating tax evasion.”—Angus Robertson MP

This isn’t comparing like with like, and isn’t using the latest figures.

The DWP confirmed to us that currently 3,800 staff do work relating to benefit fraud investigations. Benefit fraud was estimated to cost £1.3 billion in 2014/15.

There are reportedly about 300 staff working for HMRC’s Affluent Unit, which targets people with income over £150,000 or wealth between £1 million and £20 million.

But these aren’t the only staff members who will have been investigating tax evasion, as Mr Robertson suggests. As discussed above, there are over 26,200 staff at HMRC working in ‘enforcement and compliance’. Not all of these will work to investigate tax evasion.

Tax evasion was estimated to cost £4.4 billion in 2013/14, and adding in tax avoidance puts the total at just over £7 billion.

The SNP told us it acknowledged the HMRC figure was just for the very rich and not a like-for-like comparison with the DWP staff. It said it wanted to highlight the lack of transparency with the figures, given that it’s not possible to get specific breakdowns of what HMRC staff are doing, beyond looking at individual teams like the Affluent Unit.

That may well be the case, but Mr Robertson’s claim today still wasn’t justified by the available figures.

We've since published a separate factcheck on this claim.

Border control

“Over 200,000 economic migrants came from the European Union over the period for which we’ve got figures. And yet the propaganda sheet sent out to the British people claims we maintain control of our borders. Have we withdrawn from the free movement of people, or is that sheet simply untrue?”—Jacob Rees-Mogg MP

The Leave and Remain sides have clashed frequently over the question of whether the UK “controls its borders” as an EU member.

The government’s leaflet sent to voters this week does indeed say that “we control our own borders”.

This is correct in the sense that the UK can check passports at the border, whereas EU countries in the passport-free Schengen area don’t. People who don’t have a valid ID can be turned away.

But the EU right to free movement of workers and their families means we don’t control immigration from other EU countries, which is the sense in which Leave campaigners like Mr Rees-Mogg mean that we lack control over our borders.

Mr Rees-Mogg told us that his specific figure refers to the number of citizens of other EU countries who work in the UK.

This rose by an estimated 215,000, to over two million, over the course of 2015.

We can’t be certain these people came from the EU over this period. These figures only show how many citizens from the rest of the EU are in work, not when they came here.

We do know that around 165,000 citizens from other EU countries arrived in the UK for work in the year ending September 2015, according to the latest estimates. This is both people who have a job lined up and people seeking work.

These figures may well be too low, though, as they only cover people who stated work was the main reason they came. Students, for instance, could take up employment in the UK alongside their study.

Parent governors

“Is the Prime Minister aware of the sadness and anger that has resulted from the forced academies announcement that the duty for each school to have parent governors will be removed?”—Catherine West MP

“...let me say to the honourable lady that something in the Labour motion today is actually inaccurate and should be withdrawn. The Labour motion says that the white paper proposes the removal of parent governors from school governing bodies. It does no such thing.”—David Cameron

The government recently announced that it “will no longer require academy trusts to reserve places for elected parents on governing boards”. Parent governors will be optional for all open and new academies, which all schools are expected to at least be in the process of becoming by 2020.

So Ms West’s phrasing of the policy was accurate. But Labour’s motion arguing against the changes says that the government “proposes the removal of parent governors from school governing bodies which will reduce the genuine involvement of parents and communities in local schools”.

As Mr Cameron says, making parent governors optional isn’t the same thing as removing them altogether.

The motion is being debated in the House of Commons today.

Update 14 April 2016

HMRC's Affluent Unit now covers people with wealth from £1m to £2.5m, though we're still waiting on confirmation from HMRC. We've updated the article to reflect this.

We've also updated the section on EU economic migrants to reflect Jacob Rees-Mogg MP's explanation of the figures he used.

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