HMRC Is Shite

HMRC Is Shite
Dedicated to the taxpayers of Britain, and the employees of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), who have to endure the monumental shambles that is HMRC.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

But For a Ha'peth of Tar

But For a Ha'peth of TarI understand that in the aftermath of HMRC's Datagate scandal last year, when HMRC lost the personal details of 25 million taxpayers, HMRC management have instructed all HMRC staff to remove customer correspondence from desks and lock it in a secure drawer/cupboard when they leave the office.

I am not quite sure how that will prevent another Datagate. However, it is a good security measure.

Unfortunately, there is one problem.

A large number of staff in number of offices do not have lockable drawers.

Fair enough, buy some locks then!

Unfortunately, HMRC cannot afford to do that.

Therefore staff have been instructed in at least one office to remove all customer correspondence from their desks when they leave the office, and put it in a large unlocked cabinet!!


A brilliant solution is it not?

Not only does the correspondence remain unlocked, but it is helpfully gathered together in one place so that anyone (eg cleaners, journalists working under cover etc) wishing to have look can do so with ease.

Quite why the powers that be think that this is more secure is beyond me.

A cynic might suggest that the "clear desk" policy has nothing to do with security, but is in fact a means of making HMRC processes seem more "outsource friendly".

Clear desks, in theory, mean easy and simple processes!

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Monday, 29 September 2008

Welcome Moira

HMRC having sacked Adam Hart-Davis as their front man, for his comments about the complexity of tax, have now recruited Moira Stuart as the new face of HMRC's Self Assessment TV advertising campaign.

The adverts will feature Moira "popping up in unexpected places" to remind people of the deadline dates. Moira will also be appearing on billboards and posters, and in press and online ads, encouraging people to beat the deadlines and file on time.


However, I understand from a comment posted on Accounting Web, that:

"There is such a backlog of returns not even logged as received with half the staff not trained to capture them, they will just add to the stock-pile on window ledges, desks and floors."

Maybe the money spent on hiring Moria would have been better spent on improving the systems in house?

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Friday, 26 September 2008

Guide To Using The Internet

Guide To Using The Internet
Today's Times quotes HMRC:

"HMRC's priority is to allow staff access to websites which allow them to do their jobs. This site does not fall into that category." says a spokesman sternly.

HMRC, like many other organisations, appears to have a little trouble accepting the fact that in the 21st century the internet (for all its good and bad points) is as much a part of our lives as eg phones.

To some extent I too have sympathy with organisations that struggle with allowing unlimited access to the net. There is a very real danger that staff could spend the entire day on Facebook etc, without putting quill to parchment.

However, it is in the interests of organisations (including HMRC), and their employees, that individual members of staff are fully conversant with technological innovations such as the internet and email.

Therefore organisations that handle the net in a sensible manner, and ensure that staff understand some basic do's and don't with regard to its usage, should find that allowing access does not result in a reduction of productivity and will in fact improve staff morale.

The fundamental principle being that if you treat staff as responsible adults, they will behave as responsible adults.

Here is a non prescriptive, pro forma guideline, that companies (even HMRC) could incorporate into their codes of conduct. I assume HMRC has a code of conduct for staff?


This guideline is intended to form part of a company's code of conduct. As such breaches of this guideline would constitute a breach of the code, and shall constitute a notifiable event; requiring registration and action (as deemed appropriate) by the management responsible for implementation of the code.

The company expects that staff will use the internet, email and telephone facilities in a responsible manner. The use of these facilities is encouraged, where the use is for business purposes and supports the goals and objectives of the company.

However, the company expects the following general principles to be adhered to:
  • The above systems are company assets; and as such should be used for business purposes. However, personal use of the internet may take place during non work time (eg lunch breaks etc) so long as it does not interfere with an employee's performance and does not contravene the other rules laid out below.

  • It is in the interests of the company, and its employees, that individual members of staff are fully conversant with technological innovations such as the internet.

  • A cost conscious approach should be adopted by users when determining which facility to use, and when to use it, eg email is less expensive than a phone call.

  • The use of the facilities to access/distribute sexual and illegal material is strictly prohibited.

  • Employees shall not allow others (including family members) to use the facilities.

  • Employees shall abide by the principle of privacy with regard to other individuals' facilities, eg unless the owner has given permission, colleagues' email boxes shall not be read.

  • The nature of the internet is such that it accessible to all. Therefore, information retrieved from the internet, intended to be used for decision making purposes, should be validated for authenticity before being used.

  • It is a violation of company policy for any employee, including system administrator (other than for system maintenance) to access information of the system without the employee's knowledge. However, access without the employee's knowledge may occur where permission has been granted by senior management when they have taken legal advice.

  • The company retains the right to access and disclose information in these systems in order to protect its interests, or when required to by law. Accordingly, employees should not have any expectation of privacy regarding the use of these systems and information stored therein.

  • Employees who inadvertently access information or messages that are in breach of the above should notify their senior line manager.
Treat your staff as responsible adults, and they will act as responsible adults.

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Gone Fishing

Gone Fishing
Accountancy Age reports that HMRC's investigation into offshore accounts, now covers up to 80,000 individuals suspected of using offshore bank accounts to avoid paying UK tax.

A good sized haul of fish to wade through.

Seemingly HMRC have mounted this massive fishing trip, because they are desperate to have a criminal prosecution.

The trouble is as Bob Brown, global leader for tax and investigations for Ernst & Young, says:

"The quality of information [on offshore accounts] is not as good as they thought and they lack enough experienced investigators to run with this."

Would it not therefore be better to cut one's cloth according to one's girth?
Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Big Brother Blocks Site

Big Brother
I understand, from a comment made on an earlier post, that HMRC have now blocked access to this site in their offices; ie they have forbidden their staff to access a site that is freely available to everyone else.

It does appear that HMRC don't like criticism, don't like this site and most certainly do not like their staff reading items that may be deemed to be "off message".

Interestingly, despite the censorship, this site's position on Google (type "HMRC" into the Google search box) has moved up from 6th to 4th place out of 1,290,000 entries.

Who knows, maybe it will one day overtake HMRC's own site on Google?

There may be ways for HMRC staff to get around the block, eg use a proxy such as Anonymouse, Megaproxy (, ID Zap ( and The Cloak (

Maybe someone with more IT expertise than myself could come up with better suggestions as to how the firewall can be breached, without staff getting a bollocking or losing their jobs?

My advice to the management of HMRC is that you cannot treat professional adults like children who cannot be trusted, this policy will backfire.

My advice to the staff of HMRC is to follow Peter Finch's call to arms, stick your heads outside of your windows and shout:

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Hanging on The Telephone - Cut Off In Their Prime

Hanging on The TelephoneThe recent article about taxpayers phoning HMRC call centres being cut off by HMRC staff (in order to save time looking up answers), attracted this comment:

"Ah, but this doesn't just happen to customers of HMRC, it also happens to staff.

The other day, I was having difficulty figuring out how to claim a particular item of T&S (Travel and Subsistence) after working away.

Our internal guidance was, as usual, absolutely useless so I phoned the HR Service Centre. After waiting for fifteen minutes and ignoring the automated voice repeatedly telling me that I'd be better off e-mailing (a 10-working day turnaround for an answer? I don't bloody think so!) I spoke to a chap, explained the complicated situation and, without a word, he promptly hung up on me because the question was too difficult for him to answer!

Cue me calling again, waiting another fifteen minutes, speaking to someone else and being told that he didn't know the answer but would forward it to the T&S team. The expected timescale for a response? 10 working days.

To their credit, they actually e-mailed me back within 2 days.

With the wrong answer.

Piss-poor customer service isn't just restricted to our external customers you know..

As I have noted many times before, HMRC staff are taxpayers too; the above case proves that point, as HMRC staff are being treated in exactly the same way as "civilian" taxpayers.
Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Monday, 22 September 2008

EDS - Reality Sucks!

Reality Sucks!Those of you with very long memories may recall way back in November 2005 HMRC announcing that it had reached a settlement with EDS, re compensation for the IT problems it had over its tax credit system.

When tax credits were introduced in 2003 EDS supplied the IT system that "supported" it. Needless to say, as with all government IT projects, it went tits up and thousands of families were overpaid.

EDS got a sound spanking, and HMRC were proud to announce a settlement of £71M in 2005.

All well and good, except for one small fly in HMRC's oinkment.

They "forgot" to mention that EDS would be allowed to pay £26M of the settlement out of future revenue streams from future government contracts, the deal being that EDS were allowed to pay 4.5% of income over 3 years every quarter.


Can you guess what happened next?

Yes, that's right, EDS has not won the contracts it had hoped for.


Thus it has fallen short on its payments.


HMRC are on the ball though, and have told Computer Weekly that they have "compiled millions of documents in preparation for a possible hearing in the High Court to recover the money".

Indeed, in February 2008, the Public Accounts Committee recommended that HMRC "should consider litigation if the full amount of the settlement is not forthcoming in 2008".

Whilst, one way or another, it seems that there is a solution to this issue; there remains the question as to why HMRC were economical with the actualite in 2005?

In fact had it not been for the work of the Public Accounts Committee, this little omission would never have to come to light.

Why would HMRC be so reluctant to be open with the taxpayer and its political masters?

The Committee were not entirely impressed with the agreement, Computer Weekly states that they "were amazed by it, and the fact that the Treasury not only approved it but considered it 'pragmatic'".

Alan Williams said:

"It looks as if it is all a bit illusory, a presentational package."

The then chairman of HMRC had claimed that the settlement was "commercially astute".

Good grief!

In order to recover compensation for crap performance, the government was placed in the position (by HMRC) of having to hire the same company for future projects.

Are there no qualified accountants running HMRC?

Oh, hang on a minute, there aren't!

By the way, Dave "Nearly Man" Hartnett, now acting CEO of HMRC said in 2003 before the system went live:

"If I might, can I just read you the certificate that was given to us by EDS just before we went live?

It said this:

'I consider that this release of software is fit for purpose of supporting all current and agreed business and statutory requirements for live use in support of business requirement computer systems to help the Inland Revenue's obligation to provide new Tax Credits'.

They signed off the system as fit for purpose

As Computer Weekly says, HMRC knows that if it goes to court to enforce the settlement its lawyers will have to answer allegations relating to HMRC's own failings.

That will be an interesting can of worms.

However, this will never happen; because, as we know, HMRC does not like to air its dirty laundry in public.

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Friday, 19 September 2008

Trouble in Store

Trouble in Store

Result of HMRC Pay Consultative Ballot

The results of the consultative ballot of PCS members in HMRC on the 2009 pay offer are as follows:

Do you agree to reject the pay offer?

Number voting YES ........................... 23,801 (83.48% of valid vote)
Number voting NO ............................ 4,710 (16.52% of valid vote)
TOTAL 28,511 (100% of valid vote)

Would you be prepared to take part in additional action short of strike in HMRC, including an overtime ban, over and above any action called following a national ballot of PCS members?

Number voting YES ........................... 23,289 (81.81% of valid vote)
Number voting NO ............................ 5,177 (18.19% of valid vote)
TOTAL 28,466 (100% of valid vote)

National pay ballot to begin on 24 September

It is envisaged at this stage that if members across the union vote in favour of action then national strike action will follow in early November, followed by waves of action in the period up to January 2009. As part of this national action we are in discussion with our counterparts in other sections of the union to consider joint action to take place over a specific week in this period, as well as playing our part in supporting a civil service wide overtime ban throughout this three month period of initial action. In addition to the national action, and on the basis of today’s HMRC pay ballot result, we are also engaged in further discussion with the national union in relation to the additional action we may be able to ask PCS members in HMRC to take in furtherance of our own demands for fair pay in HMRC.

Source PCS

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Putting The Cart Before The Horse

Putting The Cart Before The Horse
I understand that HMRC Contact Centre staff, already somewhat under the cosh wrt to targets as to how long they take to deal with taxpayer enquires, have another rule that somewhat reduces their efficiency wrt handling taxpayer enquiries (when they start their day).

They are required to sign in to the call centre phone system (ie they are taking calls) before their PC has loaded (ie before they have access to the relevant data and security questions that they need, in order to be able to help the caller).

This issue was raised with Excom at one of their recent phone ins, seemingly (to their credit) those on Excom did not see the logic of putting the cart before the horse either.

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Careless Talk Costs Lives

Careless Talk Costs Lives
There is something of a siege mentality in HMRC these days.

I am advised that HMRC "management" are so worried about the leaks from their sinking vessel, that they have warned all staff not to go to the media about any internal cock up or management stupidity.

In fact, as you have all seen on this site, HMRC "management" are so afraid of being exposed as being useless that one of their lackeys recently posted comments here slagging this site off and talking up "management initiatives".

Here is some free advice to those "in charge" of HMRC, management by fear does not work.

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Monday, 15 September 2008

Unqualified - Best In Class!

Unqualified - Best In Class!
Rather bizarrely, Philip Moore, HMRC's Interim Chief Finance Officer (whose ExCom portfolio includes Estates and Support Services, Finance, Internal Audit, Banking Services, Commercial Directorate, and Governance and Security) does not have an accountancy qualification.

Given that HMRC deals with matter relating to finance, is this not rather odd?

Jon Millar (an ex HMRC employee) doesn't find it at all odd, he said on Accounting Web:

"HMRC (especially the C bit ) actively resented qualified staff. The absence of any qualification criteria was maintained to preserve the position of the innumerate sycophants who greased their way up the pole.

Speaking from experience,(as a former employee) the accountancy profession requires standards for entry and progression that the vast majority of HMRC staff could not meet

Sycophants in HMRC, keen to grease themselves up the pole?

Surely not!

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Friday, 12 September 2008

Hanging on The Telephone - Discipline

Hanging on The Telephone - Discipline
Following on from my earlier article about pressure being put upon on those working in HMRC Call Centres to minimise the time that they spend on each call, I am advised that it is now getting to the point where some of the less experienced HMRC staff are hanging up on callers, rather than look the answers up.

For why?

They fear the disciplinary action threatened by HMRC for those who spend too long on a call.

HMRC "management" need to ask themselves is a culture of fear and bullying really the best way to get the most from the staff, or to provide a "world class" customer service?

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Let Them Eat Cake!

Let Them Eat Cake!
The "Board" or, as it likes to call itself, "Excom" of HMRC holds a monthly phone in with their "loyal" staff; whereby staff are "free" to phone in and ask their lords and masters whatever they like.

It is of course a PR exercise, much like a politician kissing a baby during an election campaign, designed to convince the staff that their opinions matter and that they are being listened to.

Anyhoo, a transcript of the phone in is published on the HMRC Intranet.

I understand that during a recent phone in one brave soul had the cajones to phone up and ask what the Chairman earned a year. He then pointed out that the Chairman's 2% increase was in fact more than the annual salary of the lowest paid staff in HMRC.

Excom replied thus:

"We have to tighten our belts and batten down the hatches".

One of the many lessons that I have learned in my years spent working in organisations around the world, is that organisations where management lead by example tend to be well run.

Organisations where management opt for the "do as I say, not as I do" technique of management, fail.

It would seem that Excom need a lesson in humility.

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Hanging on The Telephone - I Don't like Mondays

Tax professionals and "customers" have been kicking up a fuss for some time over the amount of wrong answers being given by undertrained staff in HMRC call centres.

I am advised that HMRC, rather than address the training needs, have hit upon a "brilliant" idea to improve customer service.

Errmmm...sorry... I meant to say improve HMRC statistics re customer service.

HMRC have programmed the telephone system so that a tax agent calling on the ADL line will not be directed to an adviser with less than 1 year in the department.

Good idea?

Not really, those with only a little more than 1 year of experience are not necessarily going to provide much more help; as there is no encouragement to look up the facts and give the correct answer.

For why?

As noted yesterday, HMRC's target is to reduce the amount of time spent on each call. Therefore the more helpful an HMRC member of staff, the longer will be spent on the call; therefore it is in the interests of HMRC to offer as little help as possible.

Additionally, calls selected for monitoring and quality purposes are always selected on the first Monday of every 4 week period.

Even more helpfully, HMRC managers usually make staff aware of when this day is.

Therefore, in terms of quality, you are always better of calling on these Mondays so long as you know the monthly cycle!

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Monday, 8 September 2008

Hanging on The Telephone - CCA Accreditation

Hanging on The Telephone - CCA AccreditationI understand that HMRC are keen to become leaders within the "Contact Centre Industry" (call centres to you and I).

As such they are keen to ensure that as many HMRC orifices as possible retain their CCA (Customer Contact Association) accreditation.

The other week HMRC sent out an internal mail outlining the main points of the strategy. Three key points being:

-HMRC has to demonstrate that it has the highest standards of staff care,
-HMRC staff training has to be of the highest standard and
-HMRC should work towards a situation where there is a good level of staff retention.

A very reasonable and intelligent set of objectives, compliance with these would indicate that HMRC is a well run organisation.

However, reality may be a tad different.

HMRC management have been demanding ever decreasing call handling times for Contact Centre (CC) staff, I understand that these demands force staff to cut corners in order to avoid disciplinary action.

Disciplinary action?

Is HMRC some form of boot camp?

Instructions have been issued to CC staff telling them to update records when a caller asks about a repayment, in order to save processing offices work when the claim comes in. This on occasions means that the CC staff must ask for information going back 5 years, which of course takes time on the phone.

I am told that CC staff are required to reconcile self assessment under/over-payments, rather that email the service office to do it. This again takes time.

The result being that some CC staff are refusing to help customers fill in their tax returns, others are asking customers to write in unnecessarily to address basic coding queries etc.

The aspirational target time for handling a phone enquiry is 7 minutes 30 seconds. The reality is far longer.

Things are not going well in HMRCland!

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Friday, 5 September 2008


Do a Google for HMRC and you are given 1,280,000 results.

I am delighted to see that this site appears 6th in the list.

Drinks all round!

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Statutory Compensation

Statutory CompensationNichola Ross Martin, on AccountingWeb, bemoans the fact that complaining to the HMRC about their cock ups costs time and money:

"If you are like me, then your experiences of HMRC error, mistake and delay will have cost your average clients hundreds, not thousands of pounds.

The time and expense of writing into HMRC and the adjudicator to make a claim for compensation will often increase the claim disproportionately – it might double. Making such claims also feels like a waste of one’s professional time

She calls for a fresh approach, and the implementation of a table of statutory compensation for HMRC cock ups.

"The level of compensation would apply to the gravity of the problem. The highest level would be paid where it was found that the incident to which it pertained was wholly avoidable by HMRC and the taxpayer or agent had suffered prolonged stress, delay and were unable to carry out one or more tasks as a result."

I and, I suspect, many other taxpayers heartily endorse her suggestion.

However, I fear that HMRC and the government will never implement it.

HMRC and the government wish for the dice to be loaded against the taxpayer, in their eyes we are their servants not the other way around.

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The Devil Is In The Detail

The Devil Is In The DetailWho, why or what is a "professional adviser"?

This question has been vexing the minds of the good people of UHY Hacker Young, as they ponder HMRC's definition of "reasonable care".

UHY Hacker Young believes that taxpayers could be fined for innocent mistakes on their returns, despite HMRC promises that people who took "reasonable care" would not be fined.

Could it be that Hacker Young don't trust HMRC?

Surely not!

Simon Newark, the firm's VAT partner, told the Telegraph that HMRC defines reasonable care as taking advice from a tax professional.

This means that the majority of high street accountants would be excluded, as they are not "tax professionals" in the strict sense of the term, even though they are the main source of advice and help for many taxpayers.

HMRC have provided a rather slippery answer:

"We cannot and do not specify that an adviser should have certain qualifications. That is for the taxpayer to consider when choosing who to seek advice from."

At first glance that may seem reasonable. However, it leaves HMRC with the final decision as to whether the person from whom the advice was taken was qualified enough and as such whether the taxpayer took "reasonable care".

In other words HMRC are loading the dice in their favour, by not giving and equivocal "yes" or "no".

Mr Newark agrees, and told the Telegraph that:

"The 'reasonable care' clause was clearly not given proper consideration and is causing much confusion rather than making things easier."

Until HMRC provides an equivocal "yes" or "no" answer, people will have to trust HMRC to judge them fairly in the event a dispute arises.

Hands up all of you who trust HMRC? (Certainly not the staff I would warrant).

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Fighting Back

Fighting BackHMRC from offices in the Borders (Hawick and Galashiels), due to be closed by 2011, have taken their fight to the streets.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) went to Galashiels last Friday to gather signatures of support, and were joined by Borders Lib Dem MP Michael Moore.

He is of the view, as indeed are many, that the HMRC restructuring has not been properly thought through and was quoted:

"The government have not yet shown what they are going to save by closing these offices.

For all the clever processing and online transactions that people can do, there is still a need for people to look behind the figures and to do skilled interpretative work.

That needs highly qualified individuals - we have got a whole host of them in the Borders and I want us to keep them here

As already noted, taxpayers prefer to talk face to face with tax professionals from HMRC, rather than calling a faceless call centre. Regrettably HMRC are ignoring the wishes of the taxpayers.

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"

Monday, 1 September 2008

The Charter - Closing Deadline

The Charter Consultation
Those of you who at least want to try to have a say in how HMRC should conduct itself in future, when dealing with taxpayers, need to access and comment on the HMRC consultation on the proposed new charter (there was one many moons ago, but for some reason or other HMRC dropped it).

The charter can be accessed here Charter.

Three small points though:

1 You have until 17 September to give a response.

2 The charter will be non statutory, ie HMRC will not be obliged to comply with it.

3 HMRC have dropped the Civil Service Code as a safeguard.

The entire "consultation" exercise is a sham designed to give the government the fig leaf of the pretence that it cares about taxpayers' rights.

It doesn't care, as its prime motivation is raising as much tax revenue as possible in order to fund its economically non viable spending programmes.

Tax does have to be taxing.

HMRC Is Shite (, also available via the domain, is brought to you by "The Living Brand"