Balancing act

March 6, 2014

I was surprised at the response to my post yesterday about the four week time lag for HMRC repayments.  Because four weeks isn’t necessarily a ridiculous amount of time for HMRC to take to check a repayment.  Yes – if you’re thinking about the old-fashioned pre-decimal Inland Revenue kind of check, where an actual human being would look at your accounts every year and decide where they were in the ERA classification.  A for accepted, carry on and process, R for review, where someone would look at them and check the technicalities of the computation, and E for examine, where the basis of the accounts figures would be investigated.

Only we aren’t there, are we?  We’re in the post-merger, industrial processing, minimal handling era, where accounts should be processed now and checked later, and the only intervention should come from an actual risk assessment from someone other than the person who would be addressing any risks that had been identified.

So why would “process now, check later” take four weeks to process?

Well, being even handed about it, because you wouldn’t want to set up a system where someone can enter a tax return that shows they are owed a bazillion quid, process it, hand over a bazillion quid and then only later go knocking on the door to say, er, actually, can we have our ball back Mister?  So it’s absolutely right that HMRC have some kind of “wait a minute…” check in place before they give me my money.

And four weeks isn’t THAT long…

There’s an easy fix.

Let’s have a proper consultation and decide on a maximum amount of time that HMRC and taxpayers can live with (not a target time, a maximum time) for a repayment to be made.  Let’s say we fixed on, what, 14 days?

Write a piece of code that ranks all waiting repayments in order of value, and assesses the current average processing time.

And then repay the ones that would fall out of that time limit, starting from the smallest.

You would have a job gaming the system because it would be a dynamic limit, depending on how fast HMRC were going over a given period of time.  But the repayments of a bazillion quid would be guaranteed to stay at the top of the “check before repaying” list.  And my repayment would have a reasonable chance of  popping out of the system before the end of four weeks.

Except you’d have to stop HMRC from gaming the system too – make the system dependent on them dealing with the cases in order of value, largest amounts first.  So then there would be a proper decision-making process within the department over what resources to devote to pre-repayment checking, so they could make an operational decision what size of repayment would trigger them putting in extra resources.  Would they be happy with repayments up to a fiver, a grand, ten grand… being processed automatically?

Damn and I’m too late to put it in as a Budget suggestion for this year too!  But that means you have a year or so to pick the holes in the idea – go!

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