Monday, 8 February 2010

Small Change


It was nice to have a cheque from those kind people at HMRC, finally returning the tax that they incorrectly grabbed from me last year, with the normal, 'demanding money with menaces' letter. This year, I hear it will be even worse with as many as a quarter of tax codes completely incorrect and yet HMRC have once again posted these out in full knowledge of the error.

A week or so ago, I listened to a spokesperson from HMRC being 'beaten-up' on the Radio 4 'Moneybox' programme. The incredulous interviewer asking: "So you knew a substantial number of tax codes were incorrect and yet you still sent these out?"

She replied something along the lines of: "Waffle Waffle, working in partnership with our 'customers', waffle waffle, new computer system, waffle, better next year, very sorry, waffle, call us and we will set it right."

"But", said the BBC man, "The Audit commission has just censured you for not answering 40% of telephone calls….."

I have some personal knowledge of this, having given up trying to respond to two threatening letters in the last four months and found the HMRC number to be either engaged or out of service. In the end, I wrote them a letter, pointing out that I was sick of receiving threats for the recovery of small amounts of money, £5.00, which I didn't owe them, when in fact they owed me considerably more, as the cheque I've just received conclusively proves.

Ironically, if you don't have an account to fight one's corner, you can't expect a refund either. As the nice but defensive HMRC lady on 'Moneybox' pointed out, "If people tell us why their tax code/assessment is wrong, we will correct it," but then of course you and I have to be capable accountants to prove the error and then, quite demonstrably, HMRC won't answer the phone.

Much like the debacle over family tax credits, which has hurt many of the poorest people in our society, the HMRC continues to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that at best, its incompetent and at worst, unfit for purpose. Speaking at a conference I chaired a couple of years ago, Professor Ian Angell of the LSE, described the organisation as a 'real example of serious and organised crime' and perhaps he has a point, because no other organisation could get away with the activities of HMRC.

In the real world of organised crime, criminal gangs on the internet have seen the opportunity gap left by HMRC and have, as I predicted several years ago, started exploiting the opportunity and the naivety of the general public. If you receive an email like the one below, ignore it, as you would have to assume that HMRC were efficient enough to be able to calculate your tax accurately and have a working system of this kind in the first place.



HM Revenue & Customs

United Kingdom

tax-refund@hmrc.gov.uk

Dear Applicant:

Please note now you can get your tax refund, after the last annual calculation of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of 314.79 GBP.

Please take few minutes to fill your form attached to this message.

The contents of this email and any attachments are confidential and as applicable; copyright in these is reserved to HM Revenue & Customs.



Sincerely,

HM Revenue & Customs

tax-refund@hmrc.gov.uk