Ex-footballers join pension scam victims in HMRC campaign

Campaigners have called for an end to the taxman’s perceived harsh tax collection tactics as victims of financial misconduct recount ‘sleepless nights’ waiting for brown envelopes.

Former Premier League footballers joined forces with fellow victims of financial misconduct yesterday to campaign for better treatment from HMRC.

Figures including Andy Cole, Michael Thomas, Craig Short and Martin O’Neil marched from the Royal Courts of Justice in London to Whitehall in a show of unity with those who had lost pensions and life savings through bad investments and were still paying for it.

Groups represented on the march included victims from the Equitable Life pension scandal of 2000, nurses and healthcare workers poorly advised to move pensions, former members of the British Steel Pension Scheme and former footballers who had fallen foul to those promoting investment schemes at training grounds and other haunts.

However, what was being stressed on Wednesday was not the scandals themselves, but how HMRC has gone about dealing with the fallout.

Many of those marching said they felt as though they have been treated as ‘criminals’ rather than ‘victims’ by the tax authority.

Sue Flood, a victim of the Ark pension fallout, told Citywire New Model Adviser she had sought HMRC-registered schemes and FCA-registered advice, but was still advised to transfer into ‘a bogus scheme’.

‘HMRC knew of the people who were [running] these schemes, and they met with them in 2011, of which I’ve got the minutes, but allowed them to continue to 2017.

‘They have then come to us, people have sought regulated financial advice, and want to tax us. I’ve lost out on life because of this, no amount of compensation will bring that back for me and my family. I’ve had a breakdown, I wasn’t in the position I wanted to be in, they were really difficult years for me and my children.’

Ark was a so-called pension liberation scheme that promised members 50% of the value of their pension scheme savings in the form of a loan. But members were not told that such a scheme risked high tax bills.

Kim Goldsmith, an NHS nurse of 30 years, had also invested her social services pension into the Ark scheme.

‘Over the years, between Sue [Flood] and myself, we’ve had calls late at night [and] early morning. People just don’t know what to do or what tax bill is coming,’ she said.

‘People hide the brown envelope. We need to open them – but it’s the impact of those letters and not knowing what is happening. We set out to leave a legacy to our children, but at the moment I have sleepless nights thinking about what the taxman is going to take from me.’

Football films

Others on the march had been advised to invest in film schemes, which offered tax reliefs for backing British film productions. Many were later successfully challenged by HMRC, leaving some high-profile names facing tax bills on earnings they had made earlier in their career.

A former footballer who did not want to be named was one person advised to invest in a tax deferral scheme and subsequently told to pay back the rebates he had received with interest.

‘HMRC, having initially registered the schemes, then turned around five years later and said they had changed their minds. It has been the last nine or 10 years and you [still] dread those brown envelopes coming through your door,’ he told NMA.

‘I know it’s not going to go away. I’ve never hid from it and have spoken to them whenever I have needed to. But they are relentless. I have offered to pay the rebate I received back, but there is no way I can afford to pay the obscene amount of interest they want.’

Martin O’Neill, former manager of Leicester City and Aston Villa, as well as a two-time European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest during his playing days, was also advised to invest in a film scheme in the early 2000s.

‘Initially I was involved in film schemes, a lot of us have a lot in common in terms of the financial advisers who gave us the advice and it’s been a pretty long struggle,’ he told reporters.

‘A group of financial advisers came to me, they were allowed to come in to speak to us by an embryonic group called the League Managers Association (LMA). I was a young manager at the time [and I was advised to put my money into] these tax deferral schemes.’

What was constantly heard from those at the march was that the people who mis-sold the schemes have not been pursued, while those who invested in them have faced punishment from HMRC.

A barrister present at the march, Adam Richardson, and Anthony Stansfield, a former police commissioner from Thames Valley, told reporters that fewer than 1% of cases ever get prosecuted.

Richardson told reporters that he believed HMRC’s treatment of scam victims was one of the most ‘inhumane’ he had ever seen.

‘I have never seen anything like it,’ he added. ‘No wonder people are on the brink – HMRC treat everyone like they’re a wrongun. Justice must be served and enough is enough.’

Andy Agathangelou, founder of campaign group Transparency Task Force, called HMRC’s treatment of victims ‘egregious’.

‘If only the UK was as progressive as other countries in the world and [was] able to differentiate between victims and suspects. One of things all victims say [is that] perpetrators are inadequately pursued. Why is it that perpetrators can act with impunity?’

Citywire New Model Adviser has contacted HMRC for comment.

Julian Bovill (CityWire)

Retirement ProfessionalsEx-footballers join pension scam victims in HMRC campaign