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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

New page on Facebook

Just to let you know, I've added a page about my campaign on Facebook. Do please log on and join the group, so that I can update you about ways in which you can help my campaign to become Hendon's next MP.

Celebrating Norouz 1389 - Iranian New Year

I was delighted on Friday night to be at a most enjoyable charity dinner to celebrate Norouz, Iranian New Year. I had been invited to buy a ticket by Nahid Boethe, who many of you will remember as having been Hendon's Lib Dem candidate last time around. Nahid is herself a British Iranian, and she thought correctly that I would enjoy this event and find it interesting. However much I detest Iran's current government, I have huge respect for the Iranian people and their culture. The music, food and company at this dinner were all most enjoyable and it was great to speak to several people who live in Hendon. Thanks very much to Nahid for prompting me to come and for introducing me to the audience in her own speech to the dinner; I very much hope to have continued contact with our local Iranian community in Hendon. However, the evening was also suffused with deep sadness, as it had been organised by the Laila Salehzehi Charitable Foundation, which was created in 2008 by the family and friends of Laila Salehzehi, a local woman who died tragically in a car accident in 2007. I am filled with respect for this charity's work and am honoured to have been present for what was a very memorable evening.

Time to end this Vicar of Dibley farce

Many of you will remember the silly parish council meetings in The Vicar of Dibley. That was a sitcom, but there was nothing funny about last week's Barnet Council Hendon Residents' Forum, which resembled nothing so much as one of those parish council meetings. As the Hendon Times has reported, I was at the meeting, and said precisely what I thought about how it was run. The forty local people who had attended were there to raise issues that matter to them - credit to them for turning out. But the format of the meeting meant that precious little was achieved. Councillors and officers sit behind a table while we all plough through the questions that have been submitted in advance, with people shouting each other down, spurious points of order, loud music seeping in from next door - not in any way businesslike. You can't blame most residents for not coming to a meeting like this one.

At Westminster City Council's residents' forums, hundreds of people attend, and there are microphones, so we can all hear. Before the meeting, there are surgeries at which people can talk privately to officers from a range of departments. Then, the meeting proper breaks into small groups, each of which adopts a particular topic that has been advertised in advance. The evening is split up so that people can rotate between two or three small groups (each on a different topic) in the space of one meeting. Each group will be chaired by a volunteer facilitator, who will report back at the end of evening to the full meeting, so that everyone can hear what was discussed by each group. Then, at the end, there are open questions from the floor (which don't have to be submitted in advance!) about anything that anyone wants to raise. All of the area's local councillors attend and join in.

I used to attend these forums when I worked for Thames Water. Local people would be told beforehand that one of the small groups would be discussing Thames Water's planned works in the local area. We'd have a proper discussion about it with a facilitator, so that I could explain what the company would be doing, people could ask questions and points could be noted - and yes, people could sometimes complain vigorously about things they didn't like! It was professional, dignified and constructive, often leading to problems actually being solved. There were even light refreshments, acknowledging the fact that most people will be coming to these meetings from work and will not have eaten dinner. And, yes, I KNOW that people will now say that this would cost money and that the council taxpayer would pay. But the council taxpayer's already paying for the current awful meetings, so if we're going to do this at all, can we please do it properly? There is hope - two bright young people came up to me at the end and said that they are working for Barnet Council on finding ways to improve the meetings, and they took a note of my views on this. So perhaps something will change. But it won't be a moment too soon!

Monday, 22 March 2010

More disappointing news on MPs' conduct - and where I stand

I am very disappointed to read the BBC's news about twenty MPs (including Hendon's Andrew Dismore) having broken the rules "on declaring hospitality in questions or debates after visiting locations such as the Maldives, Cyprus and Gibraltar." The BBC says that Mr Dismore "broke rules more than 90 times, following annual visits to Cyprus, by failing to declare the hospitality when raising issues about the island in Parliament." I accept that the BBC also says that Mr Dismore "denies any wrongdoing and claims his questions about Cyprus were not sufficiently relevant to his trips to require a declaration". That notwithstanding, this latest news will add to local people's grave disappointment following the expenses revelations.

To be clear: I have always lived locally in our borough, and if elected as MP for Hendon, I will live in the constituency without any need for a second home, as I will commute to and from Parliament by public transport, just as I already commute every working day. I would only ever claim expenses for things that are directly work-related and can be considered normal, legitimate business expenses of the sort that people would claim for in any workplace. I understand that no party has been perfect on this score - indeed, the BBC's latest report on foreign visits names Tory and Lib Dem MPs, not just Labour. But let me make one thing very clear: in contrast to Labour and the Tories, not a single Liberal Democrat MP flipped their home, not a single Lib Dem MP avoided capital gains tax and not a single Lib Dem MP in London claimed a second home allowance.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Speaking to a local youth group

Last night, I was delighted to speak to a group of young people from Bnei Akiva (BA), a Jewish youth group based near Temple Fortune in my local borough of Barnet. BA's members come from across Greater London, including some from my constituency of Hendon, and this was the latest in a series of meetings organised by BA with different speakers. I am very pleased to have been invited to what was an enjoyable and interesting evening with some great questions from the audience. I do believe that it's very important for politicians to engage with young people, if we are to expect young people to engage with politics. If there are any other local groups that would like me to come as a speaker, please do get in touch, and I'll be very pleased to receive your invitation.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Getting results: top taxman replies with advice for older savers

I have had a reply to my email to Dave Hartnett, the Permanent Secretary for Tax. I had emailed Mr Hartnett after a Parliamentary report had warned that some older people could be paying too much tax on their savings income. I asked Mr Hartnett for advice on what older people in Hendon should do if they fear that they might be affected by this problem. There is no way that anyone should have to pay more tax than they rightfully owe. I am most grateful to Mr Hartnett for swiftly responding with the advice that I asked for, which I am pleased to pass on via this website.

Mr Hartnett's email reads:
Dear Mr Harris

Thank you for your e-mail of 28 February asking for guidance for older people who think they might be paying too much tax on their savings.

Bank and building society interest is taxed under the Taxation Deduction Scheme for Interest (TDSI) where banks and building societies automatically deduct tax at 20%. In most cases this gives the correct result but non-taxpayers and taxpayers who qualify for the 10% savings rate can pay too much tax and be due a repayment.

HMRC has undertaken a series of “Taxback” campaigns to encourage those who are overpaying tax on their bank and building society interest to claim it back and for non-taxpayers to register to receive future interest payments without tax deducted. The most recent Taxback campaign took place in Autumn 2009 and so far has paid back almost £2m to predominately older taxpayers.

Individuals who are concerned that they may have overpaid tax on their savings income can consult the section on “Getting tax-free interest on savings or claiming tax back” on our website at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/incometax/tax-free-interest.htm. This explains how savings interest is taxed and how to reclaim any tax they may have overpaid.

Savers who are not liable to tax can receive their interest gross by completing a Form R85 which they then give to their bank or building society. This form and its Helpsheet are available from the HMRC website (link above) or from banks or building societies, and some will allow savers to arrange to receive gross interest over the telephone. Taxpayers who have overpaid tax can reclaim this by completing the Form R40 which can be obtained (along with its Helpsheet) from the HMRC website or from any Tax Office.

In addition to the above resources savers can get help about registering their accounts for gross interest from our Registration Helpline on 0845 980 0645. This is open from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday (not including Bank Holidays).

I hope that you will find this information helpful.

Dave

Monday, 1 March 2010

Older savers hit by tax overpayment

I have emailed the Permanent Secretary for Tax, Dave Hartnett, asking what steps older people should now take if they fear they might have overpaid tax on their savings income. This follows a Parliamentary report warning that more than two million older savers have been hit in this way, presumably including many people in Hendon. After a lifetime of paying their taxes, older people should not now have to pay more than they really owe. These overpayments are very worrying and unfair. I have asked HMRC to tell me what people should do if they fear they have overpaid, so that I can pass this information on to people in Hendon.
Here is my email to Mr Hartnett:

Dear Mr Hartnett

I am emailing regarding the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) report on HMRC’s system for dealing with older people’s tax affairs, published on Wednesday 24 February 2010.

The report found that more than two million older people have paid more tax on their savings income than they need to. If the PAC’s report is correct, then this is extremely worrying, not least because many of these older savers doubtless live in my constituency of Hendon.

I would be most grateful if HMRC could please email me outlining what steps older people should now take if they fear that they might have paid too much tax on their savings, so that I can pass this information on to people living in Hendon.


I have no doubt, incidentally, that HMRC is an organisation which frequently achieves excellence; my emailing you about this particular matter is not intended to imply criticism of HMRC’s overall record.


Regards


Matthew Harris
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for Hendon