Now that the Sunday Times is behind a paywall it's all too easy for important stories to get less attention than they merit. Here's one from Mark Tighe, originally published on 2 October 2011, which deserves to be highlighted. The focus of the story is on fraudulent claims and other financial abuses, but there's also evidence of continued snooping by Revenue staff on the private finances of others. Excerpt:
Previously on this blog:
THREE Revenue officials have resigned and another two have been dismissed after being caught committing fraud using the tax office's computer system. The cases are among 24 in which tax officials have been disciplined for abuse of access to internal records since 2009.
Disciplinary files show three tax officials extracted €57,514 in fraudulent rebates from the Revenue before being uncovered by internal investigators. They also show Revenue had to apologise to a man after his ex-wife, a former official, organised for another staff member to change his tax status leaving him with no pay on two occasions.
In one case, a female clerical officer who organised fraudulent tax refunds totalling €32,500 for herself, her family and friends, resigned in July last year before Revenue could terminate her employment...
Another female clerical officer had her pay reduced by two increments after she removed an allowance from a man on the word of his ex-wife, a former colleague of hers in Revenue.
The man wrote a letter of complaint to Revenue saying the removal of a certain child allowance had led to him receiving two consecutive pay cheques with zero net pay. The man, who has joint custody of his children with his ex-wife, said the incident was "humiliating, embarrassing and deeply puzzling". He was forced to approach the St Vincent De Paul Society and his community welfare officer for assistance.
Revenue managers said the incident had serious implications for its reputation. They issued the complainant an "unreserved apology". Investigators found the Revenue staff member had transferred the man's allowance to his ex-wife after she said she needed the money for a holiday.
The official, who was a "close confidante" of the woman, was also found to have made alterations to her own and her family's tax profiles. A CPSU official said "everyone does it" when the alteration of her tax records was being discussed in the woman's disciplinary interview. The official complained about being "singled out", saying others did what she did.
In another case a male clerical officer had his pay reduced by four points for three years after he arranged for his exwife's tax record to be labelled "crank/prank" when she tried to register for a single person's tax credits. The woman in question said her former husband told her about the salary details of men she dated after they separated. The man admitted altering his wife's file through a colleague, and accessing other files and giving the information to his ex-wife. He said he had believed his wife was having an affair, and looked up the men's details for his own "sanity".This story follows a similar piece in the Irish Independent earlier this year, which revealed that:
A female official... snooped on politicians and a former Revenue chairman. The same woman improperly faxed information to a financial institution about customers who were setting up SSIAs...
Most staff caught snooping on taxpayers' details are dealt with internally and are given a one or two-year pay cut for their indiscretions, as well as being barred from promotion for the same period...
One file quotes a union official as saying there was a "culture" of snooping within the department.. And even the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners is not immune, with one low-ranking civil servant found to be snooping on former Revenue chairman Frank Daly's records in 2006 and 2007.Notable from that Irish Independent piece is the fact that none of the snooping cases were referred to Gardaí. This reflects a significant legislative gap, which has been partially filled since s.77 of the Finance Act 2011 introduced a new offence of improper disclosure of taxpayer information. Hopefully this new offence will act as a genuine deterrent to further snooping.
Previously on this blog:
- Revenue set up VIP unit (but don't the little people deserve privacy too?)
- Finance Bill 2011 - impact on Irish data protection and computer crime law
- Dolores McNamara update: Social Welfare and Revenue snoops receive slap on wrist