Only a few weeks ago I complimented the local office of HM Revenue & Customs on their prompt response to a request. The lady in question definitely earned Brownie points.

A couple of weeks ago I telephoned the agent’s line of our local tax office to ask for a print of a subcontractor’s earnings for 2007-08 from their records. As I told the person, this was not to circumvent the proper checking of our client’s records and paperwork, but as an added check because at the beginning of the introduction of the new scheme in April 2007, some main contractors had not got their acts together. This was to the detriment of the subbies and to my client.

Anyway, I was told to send in my request in writing. Fine. A bit of extra time taken up but I complied, of course. I have now received a letter from “Customer Operations” saying basically that we have to go back to the main contractors first (whose records we know were not straight otherwise we would not be asking) and only then would HMRC be able to help because “complying with such requests is very time consuming and resource intensive for us”.

Really? Under the old scheme it was a question of a couple of key strokes. Is the new system so much poorer? It was supposed to be better. How much more resource intensive would it be to help me out than pressing the buttons to churn out a standard letter on two pages declining to help?

The letter also makes a threat of a fine of £3,000 for subcontractors who do not keep adequate records. Well, if you are a carpenter working all hours and not computer literate and you rely on your performing arts coach wife to keep the records (and I think she does a more than adequate job in the circumstances) what is the point of sending out a nasty letter like that? The point is that if we were not taking adequate care we would not have asked.

I thought our task was to work together to ensure the taxpayer (customer) pays “the right amount of tax”. This letter is from Customer Operations and if you received a letter in similar vein from a commercial business you would be complaining to the Office of Fair Trading. 

The fact is we are not customers. If we were we would take our business elsewhere. If HMRC knew how to deal with the public properly and how to cut costs in the right places we would not be receiving letters like this. Old timers like me remember when you could always speak to someone who knew what he or she was doing within the walls of the old Inland Revenue, and if IR needed some information or a detail to complement a tax return, they would telephone us and get it sorted out.

For a long time there have been regular meetings between tax practitioners and HMRC under a programme called “Working Together”. I really wish HMRC were serious about this, but sadly they just don’t get it. It’s pathetic!

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