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HMRC chief denies deliberately misleading MPs over border agency backlog

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Lin Homer’s ability to lead HMRC has been questioned by MPs on the Commons home affairs committee, who have accused her of trying to ‘evade responsibility for her failings’ as chief executive of the UK Border Agency between August 2005 and January 2010. But Homer has denied ‘in the strongest terms’ that she repeatedly misled the committee over the asylum backlog, and exchequer secretary David Gauke has defended her record at HMRC.

‘The suggestions that I deliberately misled the committee and refused to apologise are both untrue and unfair,’ Homer (pictured) said in a letter to the committee’s chairman, Keith Vaz.

The committee said in a report published today: ‘It is shocking that after five years under Lin Homer’s leadership an organisation [UKBA] that was described at the beginning of the period as being “not fit for purpose” should have improved its performance so little. Given this background, we are astounded that Ms Homer has been promoted to become chief executive and permanent secretary at HMRC and can therefore have little confidence in her ability to lead HMRC at what is a challenging time for that organisation.’

Homer and both of her successors at the UKBA have apologised for supplying the committee with inaccurate information on the asylum backlog – which now stands at more than 300,000 – the report said.

Asked why his committee was ‘pointing the finger of blame at Lin Homer’, the committee’s chairman, Labour MP Keith Vaz, told BBC News this morning that ‘successive chief executives’ had failed to give the committee the information it needed.

‘But Lin Homer ran this organisation for five years, was paid over £1m in the time that she was there, and received bonuses of £20,000. We were very concerned that she did not provide the information that she ought to have provided us with,’ Vaz said.

Simon McCoy of BBC News asked: ‘Do you think that was deliberate?’

Vaz replied: ‘We have said that. She has apologised, but we felt that her apology didn’t cover all the aspects of the information we should have been given … Immigration is all about numbers. Getting accurate numbers to parliament, being able to know precisely what those figures are, is very, very important for the way in which we conduct our immigration policy.’

Vaz said on publication of the report that successive UKBA chief executives had ‘presided over chaos including 150 boxes of unopened mail, 100,000 unopened letters and yet another effective amnesty for thousands due to calamitous inefficiency. For six years the committee was misled by UKBA chiefs about the agency’s unacceptable performance … At this rate it will take 24 years to clear the backlog which still stands at the size of the population of Iceland.’


The committee said: ‘Lin Homer has apologised for wrongly telling the committee that the group of 40,000 immigration cases discovered in October 2009 had been immediately checked against the police national computer and the watchlist. In fact, with the exception of 800 cases, the agency did not make these checks until 18 months later between April and June 2011. She has not however apologised for giving the committee incorrect information about the size of the asylum backlog.’

However, Homer told Vaz: ‘I have made clear to the committee and to you that I unintentionally gave inaccurate information to the committee in relation to the police national records checks of 40,000 migration cases, which I corrected at the earliest opportunity and subsequently apologised for.’

She said the committee’s report specifically covered issues ‘generated and discovered’ after she left UKBA. It was unfair, she said, to ‘seek to ascribe responsibility to me for matters of concern that occurred long after I left the agency’.

'The right person to lead HMRC'

Homer was appointed chief executive and permanent secretary at HMRC in January 2012, after a period as permanent secretary at the Department for Transport. Her appointment ‘highlights the need for parliament to have a stronger role in the appointment of top civil servants,’ according to the home affairs committee.

Last week’s the Commons public accounts committee reported that HMRC had ‘an abysmal record’ on customer service but had given 'welcome' commitments to improve.

Margaret Hodge, the committee’s chairman, said: ‘We are pleased to see signs that HMRC is changing its attitude. Officials are beginning to realise that good customer service lies at the heart of any strategy to maximize revenues while cutting costs.’

An HMRC spokesman said today that under Homer’s leadership the department was ‘bringing in record extra compliance revenues and likely to beat its targets this year by £1bn, answering more than 90% of calls against 66% when Lin joined, and turning 85% of post around in 15 days against 67% when she joined’.

HMRC had also ‘cleared the last 10m of the 18m open cases on underpayments and overpayments that were unearthed by the new computer PAYE system’.

He added: ‘Lin Homer has built an almost entirely new executive committee, and delivered in one year a third of the efficiency savings which were originally scheduled for delivery over four years, whilst maintaining performance in key areas such as tax collection and reducing tax debt.’

The Guardian reported that ‘the accusation of misleading parliament could threaten Homer's position’. But it quoted exchequer secretary David Gauke as saying that while she had been in charge of HMRC it had become increasingly effective, had improved its customer service and delivered efficiencies.

‘She is a highly effective chief executive and the right person to lead HMRC,’ Gauke said.