Homer's odyssey: From d'oh to Dame

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When Lin Homer, fresh from her damehood, announced she was resigning as HMRC chief executive it prompted a mixed response - to say the least. AccountingWEB looks back at her legacy.

Dame Lin has long been a touchstone for AccountingWEB members’ frustration, and her resignation did nothing to improve accountants’ view of her time at HMRC. “We will find out that something even more serious has gone wrong,” said Mydoghasfleas. “She always takes a parachute just before the oxygen masks drop. Should we start looking for the flight recorder?”

Former culture secretary Margaret Hodge, one of Homer’s leading critics while heading the PAC, offered a thoughtful, but critical summary on Twitter: “Lin Homer retiring at 58? Always polite and solid performer at PAC but presided over awful service to public, huge tax gap and poor morale.”

Conversely, government ministers have been queuing up to offer their rapturous approval. Chancellor George Osborne commented: “Lin Homer has made a real contribution to public service modernisation and transformation. She has put the foundations in place that will see HMRC become one of the most digitally-advanced tax authorities in the world.”

Success and failure

Homer joined HMRC in January 2012 from the Department for Transport. By then she was already a seasoned civil service operator. She was placed in charge of 56,000 staff and handed a budget of £3.5bn a year.

A large part of Homer’s popularity with government has been the steep growth in compliance revenues she has brought in during her reign. Under Homer’s stewardship this grew by 43% to £26.3bn. Prosecutions for tax evasion more than doubled from 545 to 1,288, leading to a total of 407 years of prison sentences.

Many have slated her revenue legacy, however, arguing that HMRC’s coffers have swelled thanks to a combination of tax authority error, repayment delays and controversial tactics like accelerated payment notices.

Homer has also been the subject of political controversy during her tenure. She revealed last February that most UK clients of HSBC’s Swiss business who settled with the tax authorities did so under an agreement seen by many as extremely lenient.

Her time as HMRC chief will also be remembered for disastrous customer service. During last January’s self assessment season, the tax authority only managed to answer 65% of all calls - well short of its stated 80% aim. At the time Homer admitted, “Despite our best efforts, our call performance hasn’t been up to scratch and we apologise to all those customers who have struggled to get through to us.”

But more sympathetic portraits of Homer paint her as a skilled civil servant who did the best she could under harsh government imposed cuts.

Moving on

Treasury committee chairman Andrew Tyrie MP lauded Homer, but said HMRC was still in need of a major upgrade. “Lin has done a tough job in difficult circumstances,” he said. “It is now very important that the government finds a high-quality replacement. The taxpayer experience of HMRC is still well short of what they have the right to expect. The committee will want to hold a pre-appointment hearing with her successor.”

Asked about Homer’s legacy, Rebecca Benneyworth complimented her desire to educate young Britons on the tax system. “Lin and I shared a particular passion, to educate young people about the tax system, and we have both talked personally to school pupils about the tax system and how it affects them,” said Benneyworth. “We both believed that if young people understood more about the tax system and what it pays for they would be more engaged as taxpayers later in life.”

Homer has said she will take a break after stepping down, before looking for a new job. She was careful to note, in a veiled reference to Dave Hartnett’s revolving door role at HSBC, that she “will be fully sensitive to the responsibility and care that senior HMRC officials should take when considering the appropriateness of potential roles and organisations”.

HMRC is understood to have already begun the hunt for their next chief. Whoever it is, they will inherit Homer’s problems and the government’s grand ambitions for a digital tax authority.

On his Tax Research blog, accountant and economist Richard Murphy pondered Homer’s replacement. “This is good news for HMRC: Homer has not been a success,” wrote Murphy. “A successor who demanded root and branch reform might be. I will await any announcement with curiosity, but not much hope.”

Francois Badenhorst
Practice correspondent
Sift Media
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19th Jan 2016 08:32

The cynic in me

will always question the timing of these events;

New Years Honour; DameFew days later; resignation (? suggested she stand down) = substantial pension pot.Career; I doubt history will be kind.Achievements; very few. Always in the right place, at the right time.

One things for sure, the woman will never be far away from the news.

 

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19th Jan 2016 22:00

.

Mind, wasn't Homer's Odyssey 10 years long, after a 10 year Trojan War

Lin didn't put in anywhere near that time.  Not even enough time to notice that the computer automatically issues CT late filing penalties if you have a long POA - and has done for years - and that it's tedious.

Almost as tedious as articles or any answers moaning about HMRC.  They will always be terrible and not care.  Oh, sorry, did you think you as a prole, had some sort of say in things and that the powers that be care about you other than as a source of income and as potential cannon fodder come the next war?  Good luck with that idea

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20th Jan 2016 08:20

Good knowledge of the classics!

AnnAccountant wrote:

Mind, wasn't Homer's Odyssey 10 years long, after a 10 year Trojan War

You're absolutely right - but the pun was too good not to make, I'm afraid. 

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20th Jan 2016 12:24

A good story

Francois Badenhorst wrote:

AnnAccountant wrote:

Mind, wasn't Homer's Odyssey 10 years long, after a 10 year Trojan War

You're absolutely right - but the pun was too good not to make, I'm afraid. 

 

Never let the truth get in the way of a good pun....

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20th Jan 2016 12:21

homers departure

Lilke most civil servants, her performance in the commercial world of small enterprises would have resulted in dismissal some time ago.

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20th Jan 2016 12:27

The pluses outweigh the negatives.... just

Extract above

 

A large part of Homer’s popularity with government has been the steep growth in compliance revenues she has brought in during her reign. Under Homer’s stewardship this grew by 43% to £26.3bn. Prosecutions for tax evasion more than doubled from 545 to 1,288, leading to a total of 407 years of prison sentences.

 

Well at least she has made a start loads more work required relating to tax evasion.

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By Mehmet
20th Jan 2016 12:33

Out of her depth

I remember listening to her at the PfP tax investigation conference in November. A question was put to her about her putting pressure on government to enact new laws to close tax loopholes. Her response was "it as our job to make the case for change"  In other words it is the professions fault!

 

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20th Jan 2016 12:38

Oh in case you didn't know....

I have just spoken to HMRC and made a reference to the departing Dame which went down well with the member of staff I was speaking to. She didn't know that she had been made a Dame but she did tell me that Lin's payoff for such sterling work and leaving the sinking ship early was £2.2million.

HMRC at the level I was speaking to, had not had a pay rise in the last 5 years, so naturally they were delighted with this latest bit of morale building news.

I hope the German Police will be paying her as much!!

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By csgas
20th Jan 2016 12:45

Homer's Odyssey

I spoke with an Inspector of Taxes a couple of years ago who told me that when, each year, HMRC had to report to their political masters on how much tax they had recovered through investigations, they were told to treble the actual amount on the basis that stopping a taxpayer in one year would necessarily prevent a repetition in the subsequent two years!

Since then, I've been suspicious of the sums that are bandied about as having been collected through compliance efforts.

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By klytus
21st Jan 2016 10:54

Unfortunately true csgas...

Whenever the government announced new measures to tackle tax avoidance, it just meant that the method of recording yield would be changed to fit the narrative. Someone high up the chain cottoned on to the fact that the DHSS (as was) were boosting their benefit fraud investigation yield figures by claiming 'notional' yield - speculative amounts saved in future years by the policing action taken in the present. HMRC Inspectors were instructed to do the same to reflect improved compliance yield due to investment in new tax avoidance measures. It started off as including CY+1 but then increased to CY+2 as the need arose to reflect the marvels of efficiency savings - improving yield by working smarter with less!

Years of working at the HMRC coalface have left me suspicious of any performance figures they now quote.

Ironically, they're worse for cooking the books than the ones they're meant to be stopping!

 

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By vstrad
20th Jan 2016 14:20

For possibly the first time ever ...

... I find myself in agreement with Richard Murphy.

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