Tory MP says HMRC ‘menacing’ letters show state is using ‘sinister’ psychology

A Conservative MP says recent letters from HM Revenue & Customs demanding people pay up or face having their possessions auctioned is an example of behavioural psychology now being employed by the Government.

Conservative MP for Wycombe Steve Baker says the “menacing” letter sent to a woman running a small business in his constituency tried “to humiliate and intimidate” her into paying £130.

He says: “It is a hell of a tone to take. The assumption is you are a wrong ’un, so here is the full weight of the harshest letter we can send you.”

The letter, published on Baker’s website, states HMRC is targeting “people like you” and warning it will “cost you so much more to pay” if the demand is not met.

Baker says it reflects a report released in March by the Cabinet Office and Institute for Government, Mindscape, which sets out “the most robust (non-coercive) influences on behaviour” for policymakers.

He says: “We now have the state publicly backing and using scientific techniques of behavioural psychology to extract what it wants. It is sinister. You could dismiss it as a crazy conspiracy theory if it were not online with Cabinet Office written on it.”

An HMRC spokesman says the letter is the third in a series of three and is only sent if the recipient does not respond to the first two and that the Revenue has never seized property.