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Commentary: No Lessons Learned in Land of Orwell

While the Tea Party movement in America is benefitting from a groundswell of opinion that the government has too much influence in people's lives, the UK's tax collection body is floating a proposal that the government become the largest payroll operator in the world.

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Sharon Lorimer

The plan calls for all employers to send paychecks to the state first, which would then deduct tax and later pay the workers.

From the country that was home to George Orwell the Big Brother implications of such a plan are staggering. It even has the Newspeak-like name of "centralized deductions."

The negative implications of giving the state so much power over companies in what is ostensibly still a capitalist country are all too clear. But the practical problems are very troubling as well.

Basically, if you don't get paid, where do you complain?

Right now, you can head over to your company's payroll system. Under the state payment scheme employees would be at the mercy of an agency — Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) — that already has a dismal reputation for terrible customer service.

Take the case of tax refunds. Currently certain citizens, such as those running their own business, can file a self-assessment online, similar to a US tax return.

If HMRC deems that refunds need to be checked further for security reasons they are sent to a separate office in Bristol for checking. This office has no phone number and the public can never directly contact the office or the person in charge of their refunds. Those calling HMRC will only be given a case number and just have to wait it out — typically months.

In an Orwellian twist, the building's address is 101 Victoria Street.

Many won't have months to cover things like rent or mortgage payments while the unreachable team goes through its stack of problem payments.

But there is the possibility that this might be a civil service tactic to push through a different agenda. The beginning of the proposal document concentrates on HMRC contention that it needs real-time information on employee compensation, rather than the once-a-year summary it now gets, to ensure the right amount of tax is paid.

This could require a lot more personal information to be handed over to the government in terms of types of compensation and third-party payments. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats that make up the ruling coalition government have expressed concern over issues of government intrusion on privacy on issues such as state-mandated ID cards.

HMRC could be just floating out an outrageous plan to make the real-time information idea look more palatable.

But if the government is serious about privacy and individual liberty it should oppose both proposals.