The Information Tribunal has scheduled a full two-day hearing to decide whether the Treasury should be made to reveal detailed information about the effects on pension schemes of the removal of tax relief on dividends in 1997.
Originally the appeal by the Treasury against the ruling by the independent Information Commissioner in June last year was meant to be conducted by telephone conference in April.
However the Tribunal has now delayed the case until May and changed the format into a full two-day hearing.
On 7 June the independent Information Commissioner ruled the Treasury had failed to comply with section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act, by refusing to disclose information relating to part of the abolition of Advanced Corporation Tax (ACT).
The move by the government in 1997 denied pension funds the ability to claim back the amount of any tax credits received on dividends, from the Inland Revenue, now Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
The ruling followed a request, in February 2005, for the Treasury to disclose information on any estimates of the losses the move would cause pension schemes, what consideration had been given to the impact on pension schemes, whether a phased approach had been considered, and what the long-term impact on occupational pension schemes would be.
However, the Treasury refused the request on the basis that publicising the advice given to ministers could damage future decision-making, and would harm the confidence of advisers and ministers in the confidentiality of the Budget process.
After a ten month investigation, the Independent Commissioner ruled the Treasury could not be exempted from the request and gave it until 5 July 2006 to appeal to the Information Tribunal, or until 7 July to comply with the request and release the four papers in question.
But on the final day of the deadline, the Treasury submitted an appeal to the Information Tribunal against the ruling, saying it is up to the Tribunal to decide whether or not to uphold the ruling by the Commissioner.
However, while the appeal was lodged with the Tribunal on 6 July last year, it has taken it until now to schedule a hearing as once the chairman of the Tribunal decided to proceed with the appeal, it has had to determine a date for the hearing which is agreeable to all parties.
In addition the government is waiting for the outcome of another pensions-related appeals process, as two weeks ago the Department for Work and Pensions announced it planned to appeal the findings of a High Court Judicial Review.
On the 21 February the High Court agreed with some of the findings of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report: ‘Trusting in the Pensions Promise’, including that government information on the level of security offered by occupational pension schemes was misleading, in particular regarding a leaflet published in 1996 explaining the 1995 Pensions Act.
However, while the DWP has pledged to increase the funds in the Financial Assistance Scheme to help the 125,000 workers who lost their pensions when their employer became insolvent, it says it is appealing the ruling because it has “raised constitutional issues which need to be resolved”.
If you have any comments you would like to add to this story or would like to speak to its author about a similar subject, telephone Nyree Stewart on 020 7034 2681 or email [email protected]IFAonline
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