Registering with the Raw Tobacco Scheme – Revisted

HMRC are watchingLong 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 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.
Baccy approval - page 1
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?

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8 Responses to Registering with the Raw Tobacco Scheme – Revisted

  1. Joe Public says:

    “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.”

    1. Letters sent on 15th March 2017 narrows the field.

    2. Their Ref 59400 narrows it further

    3. Case Ref CFS- may narrow it.

    4. Case Ref may end in ’79’

    5. Approval Number ends in ‘7’

    6. *Maybe, just maybe* the premises address is a single-digit house number, in a Close with a short 5/6-character name, in Sidcup, Kent with a DA postcode?

    Squint (read cross-eyed) at the pixellations!

    • Giolla says:

      All points well made. I should have pixelated more and harder, the “their reference” was an obvious one I completely overlooked. Still interesting that they cross reference what they find on the internet with their records and I still wonder just what they’re looking out for.

      • Joe Public says:

        To anonymise parts of documents I photo them, then screen-capture with something like Skitch, then use a solid colour to ‘paint’ over the areas of identification. 😊

      • Louise Driggers says:

        It’s possible somebody could phone up and pretend to be you and make trouble using an HMRC letter reference number but as they usually ask for your NI number and other bits and pieces then I don’t know how feasibly that is. Or it could be a system put in place in case someone else published letters containing your tax situation..but again, surely that would warrant a more immediate response..

        • Giolla says:

          The issued to me numbers were pixelated, possibly someone could have done soemthign with their reference number , but yeah if it was a real risk/issue then I’d have hoped for a quicker response. Also nothing in any of the letters/documentation suggested that any of the information needed to be kept confidential, and if it should have been kept confidential I’d have hoped they’d have mentioned that when I spoke to them

  2. Louise Driggers says:

    You have to hunt hard for some of them, but HMRC contact details are available on the web (although their site layout is so jumbled in places, I guess they could claim a “security through obscurity” tactic).

    It looks like someone got an alert from a system and responded by sending out the generic “iffy web activity” response because (as you say), it really doesn’t make an awful lot of sense as to why they tacked this onto the end of your approval renewal notice otherwise. I suspect the lady you spoke probably didn’t know either – maybe they are checking to make sure you aren’t trying to sell cheap homemade ciggies via your blog? Who can tell?

    What I’d really like to know what they have crawling about and (more importantly) who is doing it for them because I can bet it’s contracted out…

    • Giolla says:

      That’s what interesting, the most recent letter is definitely custom, but the what’s going part was appended to the usual you need to renew your approval boiler plate. So I wonder if it was a case of “when this one renews check what’s going on”.

      Like yourself, the bit that interests me most though is just what are HMRC scanning the internet for? And whilst my information wasn’t as hidden as it could have been there’s at least some effort gone into matching “stuff found on internet” with their records. As you say probably outsourced but that raises even more questions