Archive for the ‘Two fingers to tax’ Category


Is it just me?

January 23, 2018

I occasionally post on these pages in January about the agonies of preparing my own tax return. As a retired tax inspector, I often wonder whether I am less or more compliant than the average taxpayer, on the same spectrum as the dentist’s own teeth being a mess and the builder’s house having falling roof tiles. But with the writing and teaching I do I am, frankly, an extremely small business so I also wonder whether I have the same characteristics as other extremely small businesses.

For example: what were you doing eighteen months ago? I am looking at a payment statement from the spring of 2016 which will of course fall into my 16/17 accounts which will be included in the return I will have completed in, gulp, eight days. It is for a few hundred pounds and I had, frankly, forgotten doing the work at all until I found the statement helpfully placed in the right month in my account book. (Yes, I keep my records on paper.)

Now that I remember the gig I also remember that it was a one-off, where they also paid for my hotel and train fare. It doesn’t say on the statement whether this is payment for the work itself, or includes the reimbursement for the train fare. I vaguely remember they reimbursed the hotel directly so I don’t need to worry about that, but do I need to include the train fare in my accounts or not?

If they paid for the work and reimbursed me for the train fare in one cheque, then I need to include the cost of the train fare in my accounts expenses. If they paid for the train fare on a different date or by cash or in some other way, well, the fare and the repayment cancel each other out and I don’t need to include anything in my accounts (or, to be picky, I need to include both).

What I’m actually going to do, of course, is stick the amount of the cheque in my accounts as takings and forget about the train fare, on the grounds that you never mess with the Revenue by under declaring your takings, but that a train fare I might or might not have paid eighteen months ago is neither here nor there.

Of course, if the fabled free software for MTD existed, I would move to keeping my records electronically. I did accept a free trial of some software and found it remarkably easy to have invoices that generated and numbered themselves and added themselves up. However at the end of the free trial the monthly subscription was more than my average monthly turnover so I had to decline.

In short, if there was free software I would use it. If there was free software I would know whether the payment I received was net or gross and my accounts would be that much more accurate. This is why I believe MTD is a customer service initiative and not a money-making device: it’s expenses that I fail to record, not takings. Is it just me?


It’s that time again

January 19, 2018

Sigh. I’ve tried once already to sign into my HMRC account to make sure I can get my tax return in on time. Today I managed to get through and see the front page, where it tells me I have an overdue payment of £0.80. WTF? So I tried clicking on it, around it, near it, everywhere else on the page, to see if there was any explanation of what the alleged payment is for and why it might be overdue. Nothing, nada, nowt. So I go to the help page, looking for the contact number, thinking it might be a quick phone call.

No contact number.

Nope, apparently now I have to select what the problem is and watch a bloody video telling me I’m too stupid to live (I haven’t actually watched the videos but I imagine that’s the tone, amiright?)

No. Sorry, it’s eighty pence. If you want it, tell me why you think I owe it to you. But don’t expect me to research how your system works before you’ll deign to speak to me.

Poor show, HMRC. You hassle me for petty amounts, you deal with the questions that arise. Otherwise you could just charge everybody a random amount of pence and collect 30 or 40 million quid extra, relying on it being too vexatious to question.


Happy Heinlein Holiday

December 23, 2017

Bonus holiday bloggery: I have written in the past about tax and science fiction, or rather about tax in science fiction.  Next year, however, the distinguished critic Farah Mendlesohn is publishing a book about Robert Heinlein and has kindly answered here a couple of my questions about Heinlein’s attitude to tax and the future. So if you want to find out whether “don’t drink: you might shoot at tax collectors and miss” is something you need to worry about or not head over and read the interview.

See you next year!



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!


Get stuffed

March 5, 2014

I try the HMRC automated system again.  This time, because I’m trying to do something it understands (“chase repayment”) it’s actually kind of cool.  Or at least it would be, if you were a science fiction buff who enjoys living in the future and so gets kind of a kick out of interacting with intelligent sounding machines.  And not, say, someone who actually needed the money.

It asks me if I know when I last contacted HMRC about the repayment.  I enter the figures on the telephone keypad (rather disappointingly, since it breaks the illusion that you’re speaking to a machine that might pass the Turing test.  Because, you know, counting?)

The recorded voice informs me HMRC are currently taking up to [robot pause] four [robot pause] weeks to deal with repayments and sternly requests me not to contact HMRC again until [robot pause] twenty. fifth. march.

It didn’t actually SAY “get stuffed”.  But, honestly, I think I might have respected it more if it had.


Oh dear

February 19, 2014

Oh dear.  HMRC have gone and got themselves one of those automated phone response thingies that sounds at first like a human being.  So you don’t have to listen to an endless menu and press one for self assessment, two for VAT…  Oh no, instead you can talk “naturally: to it.

For some values of “naturally”…

I spoke to two extremely courteous, helpful, and knowledgeable (about their area, anyway) HMRC people this morning.  They pretty much solved the problems I had, or at least once I get the information one of them was going to send out to me I”ll be able to amend my return and actually get all the figures in the right spaces (and STOP laughing at the back, there!)

But before I got to them…

I know they record calls – they warn you about it while you’re still listening to the blah blah blah you have to endure before you get to the human being.  But I really hope they don’t record your transactions with the IDIOTIC INFURIATING AUTOMATED SYSTEM THAT DOESN’T UNDERSTAND A WORD YOU SAY.  Ahem.  Because I for one have much less patience with them than I do with, you know, people.



January 31, 2014

Clearly it’s a judgement on me.  I started doing my tax return late, thinking there was at least a silver lining in that I’d make a series of amusing blog entries about it – and then promptly got sick.

Just got the confirmation that my tax return is safely gathered in.  But it’s a judgement on me.  Never cutting it this fine again!  Next year… inner p-

Oh, who am I kidding.


Tax Returns: Don’t Panic!!!

January 27, 2014

If you’re at all like me you haven’t done your tax return yet and you’ve suddenly realised there’s only FIVE DAYS left in which to do it.  So, as it says in large friendly letters on the headline of this piece: don’t panic!  There IS still time – just not much.  I plan to blog my way to a tax return – travel with me.

First things first, then – can I get onto the HMRC website???

If you’re in the same boat, make sure you type “” into your browser rather than searching for “HMRC” or “tax returns” on google.  Why?  Because there are a few websites out there that prey on people who don’t go online much.  They pay google for the kind of “advertising” which consists of bumping them up to the top of the google search page.  If you do what most people do and click on the top entry on google then you are going to them instead of to the HMRC site.  Bottom line: you can find yourself paying money to the wrong people.  So, if you’re not sure what any of this means look on your screen now – towards the top left hand side you should see a white space where it says  That’s what I mean.  In THAT space, type “” – when you do, you’ll leave this webpage and arrive on the HMRC one.  Do that now, and then press the back button to come back here.

See what I mean?

Have you done a tax return online before?  I have, so I know you need a log in and a password.  I’m afraid if you haven’t got either of them you’ll be in trouble at this point because you haven’t really got time to get both out of HMRC before Friday.  However there’s still hope – look at this screen cap of the HMRC site landing page where you’ll see it says “do it online”.   If you’re trying to do your tax return look underneath “do it online” to where it says “log in”.  Click there and here’s another screen print of what happens.  You should go to a page that offers you a list of different services and self assessment is on its own at the top of the list.  Click on self assessment and…

You should get a screen that looks like this.

At this point you might find the “user ID” is already filled in for you (mine was, from the last time I used the site, although of course I deleted it before I took the screen print).  If it is filled in, then I advise you to write this number down somewhere safe!!! Because you can get back onto the site relatively quickly if you have the user ID but not the password, but to get both will take you days, because you’ll have to phone HMRC up and they send them out by post.  And, as you can imagine, at this time of year you aren’t going to get them before Friday unless you’re very, very lucky.

All may not be lost; if you’re on a mac try file>edit>autofill form.  It may just be that you entered the user ID *and* the password some time in the past and your computer remembered it for you.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to find that I’d done this, and so I could get onto the site this morning, check that I don’t owe them any money but I do owe them a tax return.

What next?  Well, in my case, it’s clear a big old space on your desk and, at the same time, search for the proverbial Safe Place in which you’ve been putting all your receipts and payslips and odds and ends of tax-related paperwork ready to Get Serious.  Tomorrow.  Let’s not get carried away, after all!