Long term readers here may recall that a while back I registered with the HMRC for their raw tobacco scheme as I sometimes grow the stuff for various purposes, mainly wine making, and of course because the regulations are insane. Well as it’s a new year I received a letter asking me to let them know if “Raw Tobacco approval” was still required, which was all quite expected. As the decorative varieties didn’t take that well and the smokable varieties are getting out competed by the cobb nut trees and grape vines I’m not bothering this year, though maybe next year as I’ll want more wine by then. All of which is not terribly interesting what was far more interesting was the net page of the letter, which said:
“HMRC regularly reviews the contents of internet websites and entries on the websites anonymong.org from Giolla were seen with the dates refered below:”
So hello HMRC, pull up a chair and have a cuppa.
They then proceed to detail aspects of the previous article telling of my success with registering with them, noting that the sample letter “Mirrored the details submitted in your application to HMRC dated…”. They then further note:
“A copy of your approval letter that HMRC issued to you was linked to the above entry with your name, address and approval number details greyed out but HMRC details were displayed in full”
Which makes me wonder quite a few things, firstly just what are they looking for as part of their reviews? Secondly how did they identify the letter? This could just be that so few people applied that it was obvious or it could be that in the HMRC details there was a non-obvious identifier. I accept I could have done a better job with blocking out my details, but all the HMRC details looked fairly generic.
To get from the greyed out details to something in their records would take a bit of effort, and the rest of the letter looks fairly generic so I wouldn’t have though that traceable. Unless they had very few applicants which is more than possible given how badly they advertised the scheme. I’d love to hear other peoples thought on this one, as it may be relevant for anyone else wanting to share HMRC correspondence. Also is it just me or does their tone seem a bit peeved about the HMRC details not being greyed out? I would have thought HMRC contact details would be public knowledge.
The next paragraph is where it gets even more interesting as it reads:
“Please provide an explanation for the above entries on the Anonymong website, in particular how a copy of the Raw Tobacco approval letter issues by the HMRC to yourself appeared on this website.
Please provide the information requested above by….”
I’ve checked all my previous correspondence and no where does it say that I have to keep the information in the letter confidential, and the relevant approval and such numbers were obscured anyway so that shouldn’t be an issue in any case. When I asked them why they needed the information the very nice lady who wrote to me claimed it was to make sure my data hadn’t been stolen or anything, which I don’t really find very convincing especially given the tone of the letter. So if not that, which I’m really not convinced by, anyone want to suggest why the HMRC would be concerned that a fairly generic letter with identifying details obscured was published? The letter then went on to say that if I didn’t reply then my Raw Tobacco approval would not be renewed and “may affect any future RTAS application”. They then very thoughtfully included a fact sheet about excise compliance checks. I would have thought it would have made more sense to provide that when I first registered if it was just to be helpful, otherwise one might thing it was a hint of a threat. If they were that concerned about my data having been stolen or comprised I would have hoped they might have got in touch sooner rather than waiting for the next time they had to write to me, though perhaps the problem was just in a report attached to my file and no one was looking at it. Though that does rather make the value of their internet surveillance rather questionable, as any harm that could have happened from the registration would have happened by now. I don’t for a moment think they only happened to discover it just before writing to me, if I had a few spare hours looking back through server logs might be illuminating.
All very interesting, HMRC are it seems watching and paying attention – though for just what purposes and how they’re matching what’s on the internet to their systems is a very interesting question. Maybe they just had so few registrations they assume that everyone that registered for non-business purposes was a wrong-un. Anyone else had the HMRC in touch about a blog post?