§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what qualifications are required by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise to become a VAT inspector;
(2) how many VAT inspectors are employed by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise;
(3) if VAT officials are required to make appointments with traders prior to an inspection;
(4) what safeguards are available to protect a trader who is forced to hand over information to a VAT official which is irrelevant to the payment of VAT;
(5) what is the procedure that a trader should follow if he wishes to make an official complaint against a VAT official who has been misusing his powers to inspect the trader's records;
(6) what punishment is given to VAT officials who are proved to have misused their powers to inspect traders' records;
(7) what is the procedure for disciplining a VAT official if he is proved to have misused his powers to inspect traders' records;
(8) how many VAT officials were disciplined by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise during the last year because they misused their powers to inspect traders' records;
(9) how many complaints were received during the last year by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise from traders whose records were subject to inspection by VAT officials.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon
There is no grade of VAT inspector, as such. Visits to traders in connection with VAT are carried out by officers of the Customs and Excise Department who are normally in the rank of executive officer or higher executive officer of the Civil Service-wide Administration Group and are trained for that work. There are about 5,000 officers who make such visits. Routine visits to traders for the purpose of checking their returns are normally made by appointment: visits for other purposes may be made without appointment.
Because officers employed on VAT are officers of Customs and Excise they would not ignore information which 414W related to other matters administered by the Department, but would be in breach of their powers if they took away irrelevant material. A trader who wishes to make a complaint against a VAT official should write to the Collector of Customs and Excise in charge of the local VAT office, setting out the full details. This procedure has been publicised to all registered VAT traders. If there were shown to be a misuse of powers, appropriate action would be taken, but in the last year, Customs and Excise headquarters has received fewer than 150 reports of complaints alleging abuse of powers by officers and of these only five have on investigation been shown to have some substance: none of these has been of such a serious nature as to require more than oral admonition.