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Calling Joe Public

July 9, 2012

I see that Taxation magazine are running a survey on tax evasion – and it’s an interesting read.  How far would you go?  (note the magazine itself is behind a paywall, but the survey, so far as I can tell, is not)

However the results of the survey are to be included in their response to the GAAR consultation (the consultation about a “general anti abuse rule”) – so I’d urge you to respond, so that at least some of the responses come from ordinary members of the public and not from tax professionals.

That’s an important point, because a lot of the complexity of tax comes, at least in my view, from only asking people who already know a lot about it.

Think about it.  If you take a small child and ask them whether something is fair, they instinctively know the difference between right and wrong – yes, you have to frame the question in language they can understand, and sometimes you have to frame it so they understand they could be either side of the dilemma.  But “fairness” seems to me to be an inherent human quality that we let ourselves overthink until we dilute it to death.

Similarly in the days when I used to take the occasional tax case to the General Commissioners – translation, appear for the Inland Revenue, one of HMRC’s precursor organisations, at the precursor to the Lower Tax Tribunal – the recognised method of preparation was to try your argument out (with the names and identifying details filed off, of course) on someone with no connection with the department like a friend or partner.  Which is incredibly helpful – until they have learned enough of the jargon to dismiss the case with a sniff of “well it’s just a ‘wholly and exclusively’ argument, isn’t it?”   In which case, you know you’ve “used them up” and need to find a new fair assessor on whom to practice your argument.

So, yes.  Let’s check the Taxation scenarios for fairness and reasonableness.  But let’s get people who haven’t been used up, ordinary citizens, members of the public, to do it, and not just the Usual Suspects.

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