The National Audit Office (NAO) and University of Birmingham have announced the establishment of the National Audit Office–University of Birmingham Tax Centre – a collaboration to inform improvements in the administration of the tax system.
The NAO-University of Birmingham Tax Centre will bring together both practical and academic expertise using economic, financial and legal evidence, from the UK and internationally, on issues such as behavioural economics insights into tax administration; assessing the tax gap; the impact of making tax digital; tax evasion and avoidance; customer service; and transformation of the tax system.
At the launch event, held at the National Audit Office in London, co-founder Professor Kimberley Scharf[i] spoke about the NAO’s and University of Birmingham’s previous work on Gift Aid. The collaboration showed how the Centre will be able to bring together the NAO’s experience in helping Parliament hold government to account and improve public services, and the University of Birmingham’s academic approach and innovation.
In 2013 the NAO’s report, Gift Aid and reliefs on donations, and the subsequent Public Accounts Committee session, highlighted the lack of evidence about whether Gift Aid achieves its objective of being a cost-effective way of increasing individual donations to charity in the UK. The PAC report[ii] recommended that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and HM Treasury should work with academics and the charitable sector to produce better evidence about the effectiveness of Gift Aid.
Following this recommendation HMRC worked with Professor Scharf and her team over four years, analysing around 70 million individual self-assessment tax returns. The result was the world’s first comprehensive measure of the effectiveness of tax incentives for giving. The measure takes into account the donation response of people who are already donating and the tax incentive encourages non-donors to donate. The Working Paper on this research has just been published.
The NAO-University of Birmingham Tax Centre will also make previous and new research accessible on tax; as well as encouraging debate, the exchange of knowledge and stimulating ideas through workshops, conferences, and national and global networks. It will provide an opportunity for government bodies, academics and tax practitioners to discuss needs and practical challenges in a manner illustrated by this recent NAO blog-post: Can better service bring in more tax revenue? How the NAO is helping government investigate.
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i Professor Kimberley Scharf, Department of Economics, University of Birmingham, Director of Research for the Tax Centre
ii House of Commons, Committee of Public Accounts, Gift aid and other tax reliefs on charitable donations, 41st Report of session 2013-14, HC 835, published 5 Feb 2014 https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmpubacc/835/835.pdf