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Tax doesn’t have to be taxing?

February 3, 2015

Look, I’m an ex-inspector of taxes.  Of course I left my tax return to the last minute, and of course I finished up doing it on Saturday (the last possible day to avoid penalties) and of course I got stuck and had to ring the helpline.

(By the way, HMRC, you might want to look again at section 4.  When you’re customising the return you’re asked
Screenshot 2015-01-31 17.06.40

 

Well of course I said yes, because I have an occupational pension.  But then I spent a good hour baffled by section four itself, which says

Screenshot 2015-01-31 17.08.20

 

I mean, OK, it was five o’clock on the day the tax return was due, but I managed to get through to the helpline with no trouble.  The trouble was that the helpline didn’t know where to enter an occupational pension either!  The answer is, hit send (leaving all the boxes blank) and you will, eventually, get to the secret page 2 of part 4 which has a space for occupational pensions.  Try a bit of signposting please!

While we’re about it, where the hell do you get off with this page?

Screenshot 2015-01-31 17.12.38I don’t have a repayment due.  But you can’t get past this page of the return without entering your bank details or lying that you don’t have one at all.  Now, that may be administratively convenient for you, and I have given you my bank details before when I have been due a repayment.  But I’d very much like to know how you have the right to demand my bank details as part of my return?  Anyone?  Bueller?)

Anyway.  I finished my return, paid the tax, and sat back waiting for the Inner Peace to descend.

It didn’t.

Because, you know, when I worked on the CIS scheme, we were very proud of the groundbreaking way that the contractors’ monthly returns were pre-populated with the details of their subcontractors already known to HMRC.  And, to be honest, the thing that took me longest in preparing my return, was trying to find the P60 with my pension details on it, which I clearly have put in the Proverbial Safe Place and no doubt it’ll turn up in time for me to make an amendment.

But why am I struggling to find a piece of paper on which are written numbers that I’m going to type into a computer system so that someone in HMRC can check them against the information they already have?  Is there any compliance risk from me putting the gross payments I received into my bank account, or last year’s figures, or an estimate of some other sort into my return, given that the tax has already been paid and there’s nothing that would tip me into another tax bracket?

What I mean is: why isn’t my return pre-populated with the pension and other employment details that HMRC already knows?

I suspect it’s because the HMRC computer isn’t one big shiny Skynet or Deep Thought but, like most large organisations’, it’s a patchwork of parts,  a bundle of bits and bobs of hardware and software, tied together with goodwill and fingers crossed. To put the information HMRC already know about my pension into my actual return and feed it back to me would involve… spending more money than anyone has lying about.

The old Inland Revenue was cutting edge with its computer technology, back in the seventies. Since then all the computer experts have been made redundant and privatised, so now the giant Aspire contract and the complicated web of suppliers and operators means no-one really knows how it all works. When the contract comes to an end wouldn’t it be nice to replace the outsourcing? I know, I know, that would count as an increase in Civil Service numbers and we can’t have that, can we?

But it might cost less in the end. And I might not have to spend my January Saturday afternoons cursing a system that has to ask me to type in information that it already knows.

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