Archive for the ‘About me’ Category


A worried academic writes…

March 27, 2015

Apparently civil servants can’t have contact with the media any more.  It’s here in the Civil Service Code, under “Integrity” – fifth bullet:

‘Ensure you have ministerial authorisation for any contact with the media.’

I’m a bit worried about this.  I mean, I’m a retired tax inspector and I think of myself as an academic, mostly, these days, but I also publish a blog – does that make me a member of the media?

Well, no, I suppose not.  A blog is singular.  That’s one medium.  I’ve written for a couple of other blogs, too: Huffington Post, Ekklesia, Guerrilla Policy… they don’t pay, but they are plural: media, not medium.  Does that count?

I make a few quid on the side by writing articles too, when I can.  I’ve been on the Guardian website a couple of times.  I sold a couple of pieces to Pay and Benefits magazine.  And, although most of what I’ve written for Taxation is behind a paywall, including this week’s cover story, there’s this one which isn’t.  If I hadn’t already got a civil service pension, I wouldn’t have had to pay tax on my freelance earnings because they’re barely enough to pay my PhD fees, but does THAT make me a member of the media?

Because, if it does and I am, well, I’m a bit worried.

Because, you know, I used to be a Civil Servant.  For more than twenty years in fact, so it’s not surprising that I know people who are still there.  Do they have to have Ministerial permission to meet with me?  If so, it’s going to be a serious problem when I get to the next stage of my PhD research and start looking for current and former civil servants to interview about impact assessments.

No, it’s a serious question anyway.  The Civil Service Code says very clearly that (except under the whistle blowing provisions) they have to ensure they have ministerial authorisation for any contact with the media.

If I’m ringing up to talk to someone for an article I’m writing for a magazine, then I’m acting as a journalist and I’d expect the rules to apply.  That’s why I wouldn’t be stupid enough to do that – I’d ring the press office and ask them instead, d’oh.  But am I “media” when I’m writing my PhD?  When I’m watching television?  When I’m asleep?

So the next time I go down to London should my friends be sending the Exchequer Secretary a note asking if it’s all right for them to have a cup of coffee and a catch up with me?  If  I’m not writing an article?  If I promise that I don’t have my “journalist” hat on?  Well, all right, if I go and buy a hat that says “journalist” on it and then leave it at home?  Is THAT all right?  I just want to say hello to my friends, but I don’t want to get them into trouble.

And it’s my birthday this weekend.  Tomorrow, in fact.  How about coming out for birthday drink; does that count as contact?  What about contributing to my birthday present?  Does the Minister need to give approval in writing before any of them thinks of sending me a birthday card?

Can they still friend me on FaceBook and follow me on twitter, or does “contact” mean we have to be in the same room?  What about telephone calls?  Can I still go to the Treasury Book Club and if so do the books have to be vetted by the Minister?  Can they contact me by email on their personal accounts to talk about Benedict Cumberbatch’s delivery of the poem at Richard IIIs reinterment yesterday?

Can I wave at them if they’re passing by on a train?  Can we play video games together if we’re in different cities and we confine ourselves to non-verbal signals while we’re killing orcs?  Is playing bridge all right if we stick to Acol and there’s no chit chat over the sandwiches?  How do we feel about co-located activity with an etch-a-sketch?



November 30, 2014

So why am I sitting here on a Sunday evening reading Research Methodologies in EU and International Law?

Because it’s the last day of November, and so it’s the last day of my AcWriMo challenge.  I’m doing my last bit of the “do some academic work every day” pledge that I made to myself at the start of the month.

It’s been a tough month – I’ve been teaching a subject that’s required a significant amount of preparatory reading, my cold turned into a chest infection, and for the first time I had to go to the funeral of someone who was both a contemporary and a close friend.  But I made it to the end.  I have done some academic work aimed at my own PhD (even if it was reading on the kindle for twenty minutes at midnight before I fell asleep) every day.

This persistence was largely fuelled by some kind people who cheerleaded for me and pledged support for my modest aim to raise the funds to keep the Cavendish Cancer Charity’s premises open for an hour.  So thank you, those lovely people who have already contributed.  And if you feel moved to help me make it to the last few quid, the JustGiving page is here.  Please.

And thank you, all.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.


AcWriMo Week 1 update

November 10, 2014

Just a quick update: I have been keeping up my AcWriMo challenge, just about, for a week now (go to the website here if you want to encourage me with a donation for the Cavendish cancer charity). It’s been a difficult week, culminating in the news that a former colleague and good friend died suddenly on Thursday evening. So I am still working, but it’s not my focus at present, sorry.


On Hiatus

July 21, 2014

The internet can make you crazy.  I’m house-sitting and taking a writing retreat for the next couple of weeks, and taking the opportunity to have a simultaneous digital detox.  In other words, it’s radio silence from me until August.  Play nicely while I’m gone!


Happy Easter

April 18, 2014

Quiet, isn’t it?  I’m off for a few days at a convention in my other persona, in pursuit of science fiction.  After I am done living in the future I will catch up with the outstanding tax consultations in a week or two.  Play nicely while I’m gone!


Catching up

March 24, 2014

So I got my tax repayment on Friday, so I don’t have to spend the day on the phone tomorrow following up on my “chase repayment” phone call.  Well, I say I got my repayment – I got the money in my bank account, and the paperwork will (presumably) follow?  All I’ve had so far is a bill for the trivial amount of tax for 2012-13 which they had automatically repaid when I put in my return, which has presumably been paid from the rather larger amount they have repaid from the carry back of losses to 2011-12 which they have now actioned.  But, fair’s fair, if it’s a choice between getting the money and getting the paperwork, I know which one I’d prioritise.

And then there is my complaint…

I made a complaint.  HMRC grudgingly agreed I was correct (or at least that they wouldn’t try to collect the disputed amount) and then tried to collect the disputed amount via my tax code anyway.  So I had to make a second complaint.

Now I have a letter from the same complaint handler as the first time, apologising for the incorrect code and offering me £25 compensation.  Again, I haven’t had either the £25 or the revised coding notice.  But, again, it’s a timing issue and I’m prepared to believe they mean it this time.

But, be careful out there!


*edited Monday lunchtime 24 March 2014.  The postman called… and brought me my new tax code.  And it’s right!  Hurrah!  Well done complaints handler!


The Neverending Story

February 10, 2014

Remember when I had to make a formal complaint to HMRC? And they wrote a rather annoying letter full of blah-blah-blah but then in the final paragraph basically agreed I was right and they wouldn’t try to collect the disputed two hundred quid from my tax code? Today I got my new tax code… do I have to go on?


(And, er, remind me how you appeal against a notice of coding, again?)



July 30, 2013

Dear Hive Mind

Is there anyone who would find a podcast of this blog at all useful/interesting please?

Or, to put it another way, is there anyone who might read this blog if they had the time but thinks they would find it easier to listen to a podcast of it on the train?

(the “just because I have the technology doesn’t necessarily mean it’s such a good idea to use it” post!)


Tax prat or muggle?

February 26, 2013 460x322"
For me, it all started with the Public Accounts Committee under Margaret Hodge.  Their questioning of representatives of the Big Four accountancy firms was an object lesson in failure to communicate (the video, all two hours of it, is linked at the top of this post, if you have the patience and if the technology works)  As a result of this hearing Taxation magazine labelled Hodge “Tax Prat of the Year”.
Now to me this sounds like the Harry Potter wizards labelling all non-wizards as “muggles” – a separate and lesser breed.  Do we really want the discourse on tax to be based on the idea that there are only Some People – people who can quote Cape Brandy Syndicate and know why Delaware isn’t really a tax haven – who have any stake in the discussion?  Are you a Tax Prat?  Are you a Tax Muggle?  Tax muggles of the world unite!  
However Taxation were also sporting enough to publish my satirical article, “How to handle a tax prat” in response to their piece. It’s behind a paywall on Taxation magazine’s website, but, with permission, here it is in full for anyone who’s interested and who doesn’t subscribe:

How to handle a tax prat

Are we trying to raise awareness about tax avoidance or suppress discussions?


  • Tax avoidance in the public eye.
  • Dealing with criticism.
  • Complexity of the tax law.
  • Customise responses.

We are all tax professionals here, right? We get it. We understand. There is a continuum that goes from tax planning via tax avoidance to tax evasion, and we are always on the right side of it.

There is something very soothing about being in a civilised discussion with people who speak the same language.

I am sure we all appreciated the identification of Margaret Hodge as a “tax prat” [1] for her chairmanship of the public accounts committee, particularly the session where they tried to pull a Paxman on the Big Four.

Even the people in HMRC were annoyed: that comment about the size of their brains is going to rankle for a few years.

Margaret Hodge is not the only one. I am sure we have all had that uncomfortable feeling of trying to talk to someone who doesn’t speak our language.

Perhaps you have come up against one of those people who thinks that country-by-country reporting is a good idea? What about someone who wants company tax computations or personal tax returns to be published?

There are people who do not know that “there is no equity in tax” and think that there ought to be some kind of principle of fairness involved in taxation – imagine that!

So if you come across someone like that, someone who is, in fact, a “tax prat”, you will need this handy guide.

Countering your opponents

Tired of discussions of tax in the newspapers and on television? Worn out from unwarranted criticism of your chosen profession? Frustrated with having to respond to each new argument carefully and conscientiously?

We can help! If you come across an argumentative civilian, a tax prat if you will, all you need to do is to follow the structured steps set out below.

1. Control what your audience sees

Do not allow people who think there is something wrong with tax avoidance to set the terms of the debate.

Say the “drama unfolded live on Parliament TV” and generated a Twitter storm from “those tax professionals who were watching”.

Do not (especially not in your online edition) link to the text of what was said [2], or embed the video stream, or Storify the tweets [3].

Many of your readers will not even realise they have not heard what was said. If you make sure you never quote anything in context, they never will. If anyone asks you for a link, obfuscate.

Remember, you are the editor of a tax magazine: it is not your responsibility to educate anyone about how tax “really” works.

If people lose their heads and start to Google on their own, don’t worry, not all is lost – go to step two.

2. Attack the person, not the argument

If you can make it clear your opponent is on a “personal crusade”, “idiosyncratic and ill informed”, engaged in a “vendetta” and, this is always a good one with a female opponent, “aggressive”, you don’t need to bother addressing any of the concerns.

Those two steps will get you through almost any argument with a tax prat but there will come a time when you need to engage in an actual discussion about tax avoidance itself.  If that happens, take a deep breath, smile, and go on to step three.

3. Argue against straw men

Remember: responding to what your opponent says should always be a last resort. Never underestimate the power of simply arguing against what you would like her to have said.

Suppose she says something like:

“I think you are a bunch of really clever people. You are clever, well remunerated and very experienced, I have no doubt of that. What depresses me is that you could contribute so much to society and the public good and you all choose to focus on an area that reduces the resources available for us to build schools, hospitals and transport infrastructure…”

In that event, focus carefully on the tone of the discussion instead. Say something about how the committee “forget that they are neither in a criminal court nor at prime minister’s questions, and … adopt a point-scoring and aggressive tone which generates heat without ever casting light”.

After all, it’s entirely accurate (they are politicians, after all) and why should a bunch of politicians get away with treating the tax profession like Jeremy Paxman treats them?

But even if you have to face direct criticism, there are ways. The next step?

4. Deflect attention away from the specific criticism

Remember, people outside the tax profession often think we are a bunch of parasites. So here is a list of helpful phrases to start deflecting attention away from specific discussions of tax avoidance. They can be used in almost any context.

  • The tax law is very complex in the UK and internationally.
  • The Finance Bill that was just passed is 50 pages longer than any other Finance Bill.
  • Countries are competing for tax revenue more than they ever have done.
  • We are giving the best that we can to businesses that are competing internationally.
  • It is not an offence at all to have a difference of interpretation about what the law means.
  • It is a supply chain management issue.

5. Tax avoidance, if we have to use that term, is better than the alternative

Sometimes, with the best will in the world, you will find yourself up against an opponent who is so persistent that you find yourself in the middle of an actual conversation about tax avoidance.

Well, worse things happen at sea, and in most cases you can get by with a few handy responses. Try one of these:

  • I think, with respect, you are underestimating the skills and quality of HMRC.
  • If you collected VAT from a customer and did not hand it on, it would be a criminal offence.
  • Evasion is illegal and tax avoidance is not.
  • Delaware is not a tax haven.
  • It is a supply chain management issue.

6. Prove your opponent has mistaken some other quality for tax avoidance

In a worst-case scenario, you may need to respond to specific points in your opponent’s argument. In these cases, familiarity with the piece of tax law in question will help you customise your response to best effect.

Warning: not all of the responses below will be applicable to all situations. Make sure that you only use responses appropriate for the current argument.

  • The Netherlands has some privileged tax regimes, but essentially it is offering facilities to businesses to base employment, jobs and development there.
  • US multinationals directly employ some 5% of the Irish workforce and indirectly probably another 15%. Without that contribution, Ireland would probably be in even more trouble than it is.
  • Insurance companies operate out of the Isle of Man and Guernsey because the UK’s regulatory regime is too onerous.
  • Country-by-country reporting would have huge costs, enormous complexity and, in some cases, commercial confidentiality, but I am in favour of greater transparency.
  • The problem with that proposal is that it is data, not information.
  • Delaware is not a tax haven.
  • It is a supply chain management issue.
  • Our main purpose is to help our clients calculate and pay their tax.

Here to help

So there you have it. There is no need to feel downhearted by all the negative press about tax avoidance. It’s just that tax outsiders simply don’t understand.

Wendy Bradley is a PhD student researching the relationship between tax simplification and better regulation. She is a former member of HMRC’s Better Regulation team and writes a tax blog.  She can be contacted by email.

Happy to carry on the discussion, in comments here or on Taxation’s site, or on twitter (@wendybradley).  If you’re interested, I was also contacted by Tax Journal and there are quotes from me in the second half of this article, here.  That’s BOTH taxation magazines crossed off the bucket list, in the same week!


Watch this space

December 10, 2012

Further documents will be published on 11 December including draft clauses for Finance Bill 2013, Tax Information and Impact Notes and Responses to Consultation on Budget announcements.

From the autumn statement page on HMRC’s site   Which is good timing, because I have to give a ten minute presentation on my research proposal today so I don’t have time to look.

But, as Scarlett O’Hara always said, tomorrow is another day…