Tax simplification and the post office solution

March 21, 2016

Have you renewed your passport recently?  If you have, you may have used the “check and send” service at the Post Office, where you pay £9.75 for post office staff to check it:

Pop in before 5.30pm and our counter staff will make sure you’ve filled in all the right boxes, signed the right sections, have the right documentation and that your photos are suitable.

They don’t guarantee that you will get a passport, but they do give you assurance that you’ve ticked the right boxes, written stuff in the right place, and met all the fiddly rules about what you can and can’t do in the photograph.

Why am I telling you about all this?  Because I have given up thinking that HMRC has any interest in (or, to be fair, any funding for) its customer service offering to the simmers – SIHMRs – taxpayers with Small Incomes and High Marginal Rates, an acronym I coined in this article on accountingweb.

Because, honestly, what accounting firm is going to want to check the tax returns – or will they even make tax returns? – check the tax position of people with income covered by the personal, savings, dividend, digital trading, property, rent a room allowances, when they have capital gains under 11k and a bit of gift aid?  They can’t go into a tax office any more.  They will often be the people who are digitally excluded (but even if they aren’t, does anyone have a calculator that will give them the right answer?)  But they aren’t going to want to phone HMRC, when HMRC will just give them the standard line that it’s their responsibility to get it right and everything they need to know is on the website.

What these people will need, I argue, is assurance.  Someone who will tell them, yes, you’ve not made enough to need to pay tax.  No, you don’t need to contact HMRC unless X happens.  Yes, you can tick the gift aid box as long as you don’t donate more than £x in this year.

Who will do that?

What the SIHMRs will need, I reckon, is a nice friendly equivalent of the Post Office “check and send” service.  Most of them would be happy to pay £9.75 for a piece of paper which says, yes, you did it right.

So.  Who’s going to step up and organise the service?  HMRC?  If you’re listening, how about some seed money to set it up?  Will someone like Tax Help for Older People, LITRG or Taxaid step in?  Could Citizens Advice offer it on a self funding basis?  I don’t know.  But someone has to do something, or there are going to be a lot of confused and angry people finding the “simpler” tax system more complex than the complex kind.



  1. Genius idea Wendy. They could call it “Tax Check & Send”. Maybe even have a terminal for the taxpayer to click in the branch. Like back when privatisation share issues used to get sold the next day after issue by the public.

  2. Good idea. If only they hadn’t closed down all the post offices…

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