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Lord Addington: My Lords, it has been suggested to me that as the delayed discharges legislation did not cover hospices, there has been considerable slowness in discharging people from hospices to spend their last few days at home when they wish to do so. Will the Minister look into the matter to see whether it needs legislation?
Lord Hayhoe: My Lords, in view of the splendid work that is done by children's hospices, has there been an increase in the support that is given to children's hospices from public funds in recent years?
Lord Warner: My Lords, more money has been going into hospices generally, as is recognised in the Health Select Committee's report. As to children's hospices, we know that the Big Lottery has provided £15 million to expand those facilities in recent years.
Lord Laming: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister would wish to pay a warm tribute to the many volunteers
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who contribute so much to that work. Does he also agree that it is very important that those volunteers are not exploited?
Lord Warner: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. A good deal of palliative support for people who are coming to the end of their lives is provided by volunteers, sometimes in hospitals and sometimes in people's own homes. I am sure that everybody in this House pays tribute to that splendid work. It is right that such people should not be exploited. The Government are expanding public services in those areas to achieve a good partnership between volunteers and public services.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My Lords, the Inland Revenue continuously tries to make self-assessment as easy as possible. It has made changes recently which will give more than 2 million taxpayers an easier task. Many will no longer be required to complete a return, and others will be able to use a short tax return. The Inland Revenue has also enhanced the online system to offer taxpayers a wider range of services. Those who file electronically benefit from online help to prevent obvious mistakes in their returns.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I welcome the Answer given by my noble friend. It shows that online self-assessment is a very efficient method for the taxpayer and for the Inland Revenue. Why then are there certain categories of individuals who are not allowed do their self-assessment online, which include Members of this House and of the other place?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am not allowed to do my return over the Internet and nor is my noble friend Lord Dubs. This is not a secret; I have discussed it with him. The reason is that there are special handling arrangements for those whose links with their employer apparently ought not to be disclosed for security reasons. However, it is true that a number of Members of this House are not able to file electronically and it is the intention of the Inland Revenue to reduce that number as far as possible and to make arrangements so that all Members can file over the Internet.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, the last set of public service agreements had a 50 per cent target for electronic filing. That was subsequently refinedI think that is the termto 25 per cent for self-assessment. Will the Minister explain why the latest public service agreements
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contain no target for such filing? Is it because all the evidence points to the fact that these targets would simply not be met?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the number of people who file electronically is increasing every year. There were over 1 million at the end of January this year; 1,080,000, I think. The total number of self-assessments is 9.5 million out of 30 million. My understanding is that Inland Revenue targets have been met in previous years.
Lord Sheldon: My Lords, I welcome the use of the Internet for making tax returns. Can my noble friend tell me how many taxpayers pay through the Internet and how many taxpayers receive statements of account via the Internet when it is requested by them?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not have that figure. Clearly, the people who file via the InternetI have already given a figure of over 1 millionmust be given an opportunity to pay over the Internet when they have to pay. Of course, the number of people who pay other than by PAYE is a very small proportion of all taxpayers.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, both taxpayers and the Inland Revenue are gaining by self-assessment. Taxpayers are gaining because they have less work to do and the Inland Revenue is gaining because the costs are less. I should add that when a return is filed over the Internet, it is analysed electronically. It does not have to return to paper and pencil in order to be calculated.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is evidence that the number of tax inquiries launched by the Inland Revenue has dramatically increased in recent times? Is this something that is due to the introduction of self-assessment or is it due to some other reason?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am not sure that I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, means by "tax inquiries". If they are the checks carried out by the Inland Revenue on discrepancies, then I am not sure that that is the case. But it could also mean checks that are made when there is a suspicion of a filing being deliberately inaccurate. In view of that ambiguity, I would rather write to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, about that point.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, given my noble friend's Answer, and given that filing online is a purely voluntary activity, so that those who might have security concerns would obviously not do it that way, why can the Government not make an immediate decision and allow us all to file online right away? Is it because governments do not make immediate decisions?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am sure that that is part of the reason. The history of online
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filing is a little more complicated than that. There are two types of online filing. One is the original, which was introduced about 10 years ago and was mainly designed for advisers. The second is the Internet filing provision for individual taxpayers, which was introduced three or four years ago. To reconcile those, in order to make online filing possible for everybody, is a little more complicated than might appear.
Lord Newby: My Lords, in terms of the credibility of the system, will the Minister raise with the Inland Revenue the possibility of introducing de minimis limits in terms of fines for late payments? At present, if one submits a late claim for a repayment, one can get a demand for a fine of £0.00. This clearly brings the system into disrepute. Will the Minister consider that point?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my understanding is that there are special arrangements for anything less that £2,000. I may be out of date on that. It sounds a sensible point and I shall look into it.
Lord Brook of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, as we have a moment to spare, may I commend to the Treasury Bench a novel system of self-assessment? When my late noble kinsman was Financial Secretary to the Treasury, 50 years ago, he received a letter from an anonymous taxpayer. It said that he had been losing much sleep and had come to the conclusion that the loss of sleep was caused by his inaccurate tax reporting. He enclosed a banker's draft for £50,000 and added a postscript saying that if he continued to lose sleep, he would send some more.
Brought from the Commons, endorsed with the certificate from the Speaker (pursuant to the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949) that the Bill as compared with the Hunting Bill of last Session contains only such alterations as are necessary owing to the time which has elapsed since the date of that Bill; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.
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