Thursday 21 May 2020

Tax attitude data - the IRD OIA slowly progresses

It's been a long saga, and it isn't over yet. But the end is in sight. 

On 12 February, 2019, I put in an OIA request for the data from the polling that IRD had commissioned from Colmar Brunton on tax attitudes. 

On 12 March, 2019, IRD declined the request on grounds that it would be considered sensitive tax data. I brought the matter to the Ombudsman the next day. But it later turned out that they had ordered the data destroyed. 

On 1 November, 2019, IRD gave me revised grounds for having refused the request: that the data had been destroyed. 

I had a chat with the Archivist's Office about what's required for that kind of destruction of public records, then went back to the Ombudsman.

On 12 March, 2020, the Chief Ombudsman provided a substantial slap to IRD and directed them to get the data. 

Some particularly nice bits from that report:
You have acknowledged that IR’s original decision to refuse the request on this basis was incorrect. I agree. It is difficult, in circumstances where IR has not reviewed the information at issue, to be satisfied that its disclosure would be contrary to the Tax Administration Act.
This is particularly nice because IR claimed its original decision was wrong on the basis that the data had been destroyed and consequently couldn't be supplied. They didn't say that their original justification for withholding the data, had it existed, was incorrect. The Ombudsman here is telling them that their withholding as tax secret was wrong full stop.
IR has contended that, in retrospect, Clause 4.3.2 of its Disposal Authority, DA418, authorises the disposal of this kind of information. It is possible this is correct.8 However, as IR did not document its decision of 9 February 2019, I am unable to satisfy myself that IR properly turned its mind to its Disposal Authority when it decided to instruct Colmar Brunton to delete the political leanings data. It is, in short, not clear that its disposal was properly authorised.

I therefore consider that IR was obliged, in the circumstances set out above, to contact Colmar Brunton to seek access to any backups of the political leanings data held by it or Dimensions while considering Dr Crampton’s request. In the absence of such efforts, I am not persuaded, subject to your further comment, that IR was entitled to refuse the request under section 18(e) of the OIA.
The Chief Ombudsman also referred the matter to the Chief Archivist to check whether IRD was also in breach of its obligations under the Public Records Act. 

The Ombudsman asked that, by 9 April 2020, IRD provide him with the steps they would take to give effect to his recommendation.

On Tuesday, 19 May 2020, IRD provided me this update:

Dear Dr Crampton

I am writing to advise you of our next steps with regards to your complaint to the Ombudsman.

As advised by the Ombudsman in his final letter, we requested the data for the Trust in IR research survey from Colmar Brunton. We are currently working through the data and will let you know the result of your request for the data in due course.

Kind regards

Government & Executive Services 

So, fifteen months after my original request, IRD says that they're working through the data to see what they can give me. Stay tuned. I'll have to set a calendar flag to follow this up in 20 working days if I've not heard anything. 

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