May the fourth be with you

May 4, 2012

(When nine hundred years old we are, still funny that will be!)

I’m walking a fine line with this blog: as a former HMRC employee, I’m not allowed to write my memoirs for two years, and I’m not ever – of course – allowed to breach the Official Secrets Act by revealing anything I happen to know about what happens in HMRC that isn’t in the public domain.

However I do, of course, retain the rights of any citizen to comment on anything which IS in the public domain – like the consultations I’m responding to, and the quality standards which apply when government departments publish impact assessments and tax impact assessments.  That’s why I tend to be over-generous with my links to publicly available sources, just to make it clear I’m staying on the right side of the line.

So let’s have a look today at some non-HMRC publications.

First of all, what about this article in Taxation magazine?  (It’s behind a paywall I’m afraid so those of you who aren’t accountants or HRMC employees – there ARE people reading this who aren’t accountants or HMRC employees, right?  Right?? – won’t be able to see it, sorry.)  Essentially it’s an account of someone being pursued for a failure to include some pension income in his tax return and, when it was pointed out that the income was *on the return*, apparently being told that the entry was in a box on the return that wasn’t part of the return!  That’s some catch, that catch 22!

The article concludes that HMRC staffing levels have been cut too far too fast, and we shouldn’t blame the staff but the management.

Then there’s this, from Accountancy Age

In my opinion the widespread problems which currently plague HMRC are the result of a combination of weak leadership – from an executive committee without adequate expertise – and political interference from a Government which not only continually shifts the goalposts but also makes unreasonable demands, expecting performance to improve while costs are cut.

And then there is the ARC (Association of Revenue and Customs) forum on the FDA (union) website to which I have access as a life member but which is definitely inaccessible to non-members, sorry.  You’ll have to take my word for it, then, when I tell you the current discussions include a fairly exasperated explanation that the people working 50 hours a week – and their managers – are acting illegally if they haven’t signed the European Working Time Directive opt-out letter, and that they actually shouldn’t agree to do this in the first place.

So I don’t think I’m on the wrong side of the line in concluding that HMRC is overworked and understaffed and not strategically well-managed.

Why is this posted under the heading of “May the Fourth Be With You”?  Remember the climax of original Star Wars?  Obi Wan folds up his light sabre and lets Darth Vader cut him down, knowing that his legacy will continue if Luke and the others escape, and that he himself will survive in glowy Jedi heaven.

I was very taken by the discussion on Question Time last night and the assertion that public sector strikes would somehow be suicidal for the unions.  But I can’t help wondering whether, if the tax workers folded up their metaphorical light sabres and let us see what the country would look like without them, they would be unexpectedly triumphant out of left field, or live on in memory only, albeit in glowy moral superiority, like Obi Wan.

Let’s not try it.  Countries where the tax system is corrupt or inept aren’t places where I’d want to live.  So let’s not become one, by accident, design or underinvestment.



  1. Interesting article. Thanks. However, considering our tax system to not be corrupt suggests you are more a part of the problem than the solution.

    • I’m interested that you choose a four year old post to add your comment to – would you care to unpack the “corruption” allegation a bit, please?

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