HM Revenue & Customs has developed teaching modules for schoolchildren as young as 11 to teach them about PAYE and National Insurance using videos, games, facts and quizzes.
But the taxman has been accused of trying to turn children into “state spies” through the programme, after it emerged that one lesson appears to urge children to think of anyone “in their local area” who might have been underpaying their tax.
In the module called the “tax responsibilities of a good citizen”, children are helped to “understand the obligations of being a good citizen” and are encouraged to “discuss what should happen to those who are not prepared to work under such obligations.”
The director of one leading think tank, told the Daily Telegraph: “People ‘in their local area’ are most likely to be parents or close relatives. Turning children into state spies is un-British.”
And other critics of the lessons are concerned that ‘snitching’ could lead to rifts in families and local communities, with some situations likely to descend into violence.
However, an HMRC spokesman said: “We have been providing information for many years to teachers to use in classrooms. We certainly don’t use this to collect information on tax evaders from children. These materials are solely designed to help children learn about how tax works.”
But the timing coincides with the hard line stance currently being taken by HMRC, which has said that the gloves have come off in its fight to close the annual £35 billion tax gap. Earlier this year, it appointed 30 dedicated tax forces to target people who avoid tax.
And Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke, said recently that it was “morally wrong” for householders to pay cash to trades people in an attempt to help them avoid VAT or income tax.
As an accountant in Bristol, Elaine Durrant specialises in offering tax advice, guidance and support to businesses and individuals.