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.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

HMRC Bans Tax Advice

HMRC and HMG are a tad short of cash these days, as such they are desperate to maximise the tax take.

Nothing annoys HMG and HMRC more than tax advisers who help people legitimately reduce their tax burden.

Therefore it should come as no surprise to learn that there is some draft legislation in the offing that aims to clamp down on tax advisers.

The rather interesting point about this legislation is the definition of what constitutes a "tax adviser/agent". Seemingly it is not just the media popular image of some sharp suited City legal eagle quaffing brandies, as he dispenses advice at the rate of £500 per hour, it also includes anyone who may offer even a small morsel of advice (that aims to lessen HMRC's tax take) even if this advice is for free.

You don't believe me?

Well, take a look here:

"Tax agent
2 (1) A person is a tax agent if the person assists another person (a 'client') with
the client's tax affairs.
(2) A person may be a tax agent even if—
(a) the assistance is given free of charge,
(b) the assistance is given otherwise than in the course of business,
(c) the assistance is given indirectly to the client or at the request of someone other than the client, or
(d) the assistance is not given specifically to assist with the client's tax affairs, but the person giving the assistance knows it will be used, or is likely to be used, for that purpose.
(3) Assistance with a client's tax affairs includes assistance with any document that is likely to be relied on by HMRC to determine the client’s tax position.
(4) Assistance with a client's tax affairs also includes—
(a) advising a client in relation to tax, and
(b) acting or purporting to act as agent on behalf of a client in relation to
(5) If a client is assisted by more than one individual in a firm or business, each
individual may be regarded as a separate tax agent.

Does this matter?

Well it may well do.

Tax experts are warning that another piece of HMRC's master plan ("Working with Tax Agents: the next stage") when linked to the above could see any individual who gives anyone tax advice, that leads to a tax loss to the Treasury, as guilty of a new offence of deliberate wrongdoing, which carries a fine of between £1,500 to £50,000.

Nichola Ross Martin is warning that organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, or the tax media industry would have to stop providing advice around tax issues for fear of being fined.

John Whiting, head of tax policy at the CIoT, is none too happy either. He has told Accountancy Age:

"As I read it, you or anyone saying 'invest in an ISA and save money' could technically come under the wrongdoing [rules].

The CIoT is totally supportive of HMRC getting at fraudulent tax agents, but this opens everybody up. I'm sure it's not [HMRC's] intention but it's difficult to read it any other way.

Nichola Ross Martin, on her website, expands the issue:

"The rules apply to all tax agents, but the term 'tax agent' is extended and now includes anyone who gives advice for free, and so will hit charities, such as the Citizen's Advice Bureau, Tax Aid, and Chartered Institute of Taxation's (CIOT) Tax Help for Older People, and apply to other businesses outside the accounting and legal professions such as Radio and TV, newspapers, tax publishers, websites, and tax forums. The fine will be levied at individuals, and so a business could find that all its employees are fined too.

Andrew Meeson, Vice President of the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) says, 'The parallel with anti-terror legislation which enables over-zealous constables to arrest tourists photographing Westminster Abbey is too striking to ignore; HMRC must not go down a similar route by painting the definition of tax agent far too inclusively.'

HMRC recognise that they may well encounter some well deserved resistance to this lurch towards a police state

"para 2.11 A significant proportion was very critical about HMRC’s service standards and perceived lack of accountability. There was a strong sense that HMRC should not be seeking new powers which applied to tax agents until it had got its own house in order."

"Police state!"

Surely I exaggerate I hear to wail?

No, I do not exaggerate!

Governments, by their very nature, seek to justify their existence and increase their power over the people who elect them.

This costs money.

During times of plenty, tax revenues abound and the populace is relatively docile; thus the government is able to wield power, and build its pet quangos with little or no resistance.

During times of recession and war people become less docile, and tax revenues fall.

Governments, during these times of recession and war, seek to squeeze taxpayers for every last penny in order to stay in power. Governments will use all means at their disposal to increase the tax take.

By classifying any form of "tax advice" as a potential crime, the government has in effect sought to block people's fundamental right to organise their financial affairs in the most tax efficient way possible. In other words the government seeks to turn the population into docile milch cows, whose only purpose to "feed" the government.

HMRC and HMG will of course deny that this is the case.

But they would wouldn't they?

Do you really trust them not to do whatever they think they can get away with?

This is a step towards dictatorship.

Tax does have to be taxing.

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  1. Well I suppose they do have cover the cost of all the extra paper and envelopes used in the recent code shambles.

  2. Years ago they told me I had underpaid 90p in tax but that it was just going to be ignored and left. This year they have adjusted my tax code by £2 in order to get the 90p back. Desperate times!

  3. I would advise you to call them and negotiate a reduction of £1.10 but I cannot afford the fine. Sorry.

  4. They reckon £2 at 40 percent is 90p. But I reckon it's only 80p, so I'm still 10p up! Ssssshhhhhhhhh...

  5. So this would mean that I am no longer able to complete a tax return for my 94 year old mother even if she is unable to write or has dememntia! I think I'll describe that with a word I rarely use for anything: obscene!

  6. I work for the decaying corpse that is HMRC. I have, in the past, given tax advice to taxpayers ( cos thats, like, what I'm for, right? ). No longer. Refer them to the appropriate helpline. My access to HMRC computer systems has,as a matter of policy, been removed. My colleauges in other business streams are not allowed to divulge taxpayer information to me, as I have no "business need". Apart from the need to help people driven half insane by our "contact centres" of course. There is a touch of Kafka surrounding most of what I hear at work these days. It is getting positively surreal. Coupled with the disturbing smell of something very nasty. At least dishonesty -possibly corruption. Our recently appointed head of IT left Transport for London under a cloud of questions as to a dodgy employment agency he was running, and using to hire on his mates to TFL at exorbitant rates, and we now have the unedifying spectacle of Linda Maslen, head of Contact Centres in Scotland, employing a " close personal friend as a senior manager,despite that person having recently been bankrupted by HMRC. Something stinks in HMRC.

  7. That looks widely worded enough that I suspect that they could go after accounts staff within a business who incorrectly allow VAT to be claimed back on a invoice issued by a supplier for a reason excluded from the reclaiming rules!

  8. This makes me want to just give up, leave this country for somewhere with respect for the law and the individual's rights. Even the very concept that there are some senior people within HMRC who actually treat this seriously is just too much. In Afganistan they have "undercover TV repair men", we are likely to have "undercover accountants".

  9. Just an observation, HMRC is a non ministerial government department - it has no part in deciding policy - thats why we elect MPs - and guess what MPs make the budget for HMRC as well. It has its problems but its not all their fault.

  10. This is to stop the 'tax repayment agents' which take up to 40% of a persons refund by assigning it to themselves, aggressively chase HMRC by sending 1,000's (yes THOUSANDS) of letters every month, clogging up the system. Yet know they have no comeback for the agent if someone does end up with a bill as the agent isn't legally responsible for it.

    It's the same as the ambulance chasers who clog up the NHS with legal bills.

    Oh and the Judas who moaned about the contact centre. Perhaps you should try solving a complex tax query within the 6 minutes they are allowed including all follow up action..... It's not like Orange where they can read a script and or offer proper 'customer service' i.e. wrtiting off tax bills due to the fact they work for the Crown.

  11. "Oh and the Judas who moaned about the contact centre. Perhaps you should try solving a complex tax query within the 6 minutes they are allowed including all follow up action..... It's not like Orange where they can read a script and or offer proper 'customer service' i.e. wrtiting off tax bills due to the fact they work for the Crown."

    Thanks for standing up for us, its a crap, sometimes complicated job that we get abused for constantly.

  12. It is hard to believe that someone apparently from the coalface made such a disparaging remark against our call centre staff. I want to reassure everybody who works in them that this is absolutely NOT the view taken by the rest of the department. I do not know of a single colleague who has anything but admiration for the high standards of professionalism that you show, especially when compared with the shameful working conditions that management places you in.

    If it is any consolation, in my job I have regular contact with VAT registered traders, and whenever I have received feedback from them regarding HMRC call centres, it has never been anything but highly positive – I have on occasion passed this upwards through the management chain.

    Don't be put off by one off colour remark - the vast majority of your colleagues are right there with you and we do very much appreciate what you do.

  13. Oooooh - calling me a Judas.....However much you protest, and however much I might understand, and sympathise with your working conditions, the fact remains - the service you provide is sadly lacking, not your fault, I know,but, and it's a big but, people hate calling you, they hate the constant engaged tones, they hate the unanswered calls, they hate speaking to operators with limited or no tax knowledge, they hate being hurried off the phone before a problem is resolved etc etc. I know this, I sit with people in their homes as they cry, tears of pure frustration. Call me a Judas. You try the best you can, I'm sure. But, really, it just isn't good enough.

  14. I don't want to say too much - but even if you ARE someone who has previous taxes knowledge and somehow end up in the contact centre (which I was for a while) - you would still struggle with the constraints placed on you when you enter the contact centre directorate.

    It is ALL to do with the way the contact centres are (mis)managed, from the constant monitoring down to not being given enough time to read manuals and instead having to rely on the Useless CAG. If you DO end up helping a customer using your own knowledge in some way and it's not in a 'call type process', Customer Adviser guide or business by telephone document, you're likely to end up on management action etc.

    I suggest you try and lessen your ignorance and actually speak to someone 'on the floor'.

    PS If you were accessing the records of someone you know in order to assist them - you do realise that is a serious conduct and discipline offence and will result in your dismissal if found out? Perhaps it's a good thing those services were taken away from you as it sounds like you need protecting from yourself.

  15. Suddenly I'm giving tax advice to people I know, looking at their tax records? Where did it say that in my post? What an idiot. Perhaps you are, or have a career in front of you, as a manager. That would explain your bizarre interpretation of my words. Just making the point that it seems more than acceptable for contact centre staff complain about the system being a shambles, but not for anyone else to do it ( Don't belive me -just search this site using keywords "contact centre".)I find the concept of someone with taxes knowledge in a contact centre laughable , by the way. As do the taxpayers I speak to.

  16. "I find the concept of someone with taxes knowledge in a contact centre laughable , by the way. As do the taxpayers I speak to."

    I would suggest that your attitude towards the contact centre staff is generating you the bad advice, I know that when I am spoken to like a piece of crap by the likes of your good self who seem to know everything, I certainly dont go out of my way to help.
    The majority of CC workers (like me) are well trained and hold a degree, a lot have come from other careers such as redundant bankers etc, a great number have been transferred in from the closed tax offices, a lot are women raising a young family who've taken a break from their 'proper' career, we're not all numpties as you seem to asume.
    The majority of the taxpayers that I speak to talk to us in a manner that I would not dare to converse with anyone in, they are rude, abusive and a lot are ignorant to the basics of taxation. The media has encouraged the public to be like this and a lot of them know no better.

    I hope one day i'm as perfect and critical as you. Until you've worked in the HMRC CC's then you should keep your thoughts to yourself.

  17. Guys or (girls)I can't believe you are bickering amongst yourselves like this,you should be supporting each other, you are both in the same boat.
    There are valid points on both sides. I am the first one to stick up for the staff at the contact centre & in fact have done so recently. I am sure most of them work very hard & to the best of their ability, within the constraints & limits they have to work under. We all feel as if we are now working with one hand tied behind our back & wearing a blindfold.

    Saying that, the quality of customer service can never be the same as when the calls were answered in an actual office that held any correspondence from the tax payer. Where the people answering the calls actually did with the work. Where there were no constraints on how long the member of staff took to deal with the query, where there were colleagues of a higher grade sitting near by, that could be consulted over more complex matters. Where tax payers could actually ask by name for a member of staff they had talked to previously and knew all about their particular case.

    There will be no going back to those days, not after HMRC has spent millions of pounds vandalising the tax offices with 'Lean' & centralisation. It will be a long time before they will admit failure & do a U turn.
    Us at the coal face all work hard in increasing difficult circumstances and should be supportive of each other.