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Taxpayers' Charter redrafted

Wendy Bradley picks apart the proposed redraft of the Taxpayers' Charter aka “Your Charter”, and asks whether the authors know the difference between standards and aspirations.    

27th Apr 2020
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The Taxpayers' Charter was first sighted in 1986, then a product of the Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise. The original Taxpayers' Charter is surprisingly hard to find (I couldn't track one down online) but there are numerous iterations which are online, the impulse to review, rewrite and rejig being universal.

What’s in a name?

The most contentious change in this latest draft is the evolution of the charter from being the Taxpayers' charter to today's HMRC Charter. No amount of referring to it as "Your Charter" will make me feel ownership of a piece of customer service flimflammery if it is only warm words and isn't backed up by action.

What’s new?

The new version of the charter has 429 words (plus hyperlinks to the complaints process and the page on "dealing with HMRC if you have additional needs" against the 635 words of the current version.

Currently, there are 14 headings: seven rights balanced against seven obligations.

The revised version mercifully loses this rather vexatious sham balance and instead sticks to seven paragraphs on:

  • Making things easy
  • Getting things right
  • Being responsive
  • Treating you fairly
  • Being aware of your personal situation
  • Keeping your data secure
  • A word about respect

However, some of those are nevertheless a mish-mash of "rights" (or at least warm words about HMRC's aims) and obligations.

For example:  "We aim to give you accurate, consistent and clear information. This will help you meet your obligations, understand your rights and what you can claim."

There is no undertaking here by HMRC to give accurate information, just an "aim" to do so, but the taxpayer is burdened with obligations including understanding their own rights. There is no reciprocal requirement on HMRC to clarify or explain the taxpayer's rights if they fail to understand the information that seems clear to HMRC.

Three tests

The consultation asks respondents to consider the new draft charter through three lenses:

  • Do you think the draft charter sets the right standards for HMRC’s service to customers?
  • To what extent do you feel the draft charter sets out the areas that are most important to customers when interacting with HMRC?
  • How you would like to see HMRC measure and monitor how it is performing against the charter, including how we can best listen to feedback and make improvements?

What standards?

My issue with the first of these questions is that the draft doesn't seem to set standards as much as to articulate a set of aspirations.

For example, these points are all aspirations:

  • When you get in touch with us, we aim to answer your questions and resolve things first time, or as quickly as we can.
  • We will also explain what happens next and when you can expect a response from us.
  • If we make a mistake, we will put it right as soon as possible

These statements are standards:  

  • We will answer the phone within thirty seconds, and reply to emails and letters within thirty days.
  • We will treat you fairly.

Who is protected?

The draft fairness paragraph states:

"We work within the law to make sure everyone pays the right amount of tax and gets their benefits and other entitlements. We trust you are telling the truth, unless we have good reason to think you’re not."

This seems to be designed to protect HMRC from criticism rather than articulate their rights to the taxpayer.

Taxpayers' rights

I would like to see HMRC treat the Charter as an exercise in codifying taxpayers' rights. There are already many thousands of pages of legislation setting out their obligations.

Whether the seven parts of the new draft Charter are the right areas to concentrate on, is a good question. I think they represent a further iteration of the same kind of areas that have appeared in the Charter since its beginnings: how the tax authority will treat us, how they will communicate with us, and how they will treat us with respect.

Who judges the judges?

The interesting bit is the final question: how do we want HMRC to "measure and monitor" its progress against the Charter. If you look at HMRC's governance structure you will see they have a "Customer Experience Committee"  whose duties include "challenging and supporting" HMRC on their customer service achievements and publishing reports on their compliance with "Your Charter". The membership consists of five non-executive directors of HMRC and three independent advisors from a retail chain, a bank and a data company.

Why is the Independent Adjudicator not on the committee? Representatives of Tax Help for Older People, Tax Aid, Citizens Advice? If it is really "Your Charter" then "You" – we – need someone on our side looking at the result.

The consultation may be found here, is open until the 15 May, and may be answered by a simple email to mailto:[email protected]

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Replies (7)

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By SteveHa
27th Apr 2020 12:36

We will answer the phone within thirty seconds...

Which actually means, "our robot will answer the phone within 30 seconds. You will then be kept on hold for an indeterminate period of time".

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Replying to SteveHa:
By philaccountant
27th Apr 2020 13:54

"...with the same awful music on a loop that will likely cause a loss of mental faculties and raised blood pressure."

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By Antony Rose
27th Apr 2020 22:50

"We will answer the phone within thirty seconds" with an annoying voice recognition switchboard that rarely works and after 10 frustrating minutes repeating yourself, you will be put through to the correct department. Only to be told by recorded message that "we are too busy to answer your call. Goodbye".

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By [email protected]
29th Apr 2020 11:24

Yes it is a pointless to include this telephone standard particularly if you are subsequently disconnected without speaking to HMRC resolve your query. In addition to commenting here let HMRC know through the consultation that the standard should end in satisfactorily resolving the customer's needs

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By djtax
30th Apr 2020 12:13

Its just another window dressing exercise (like the Forum) to give the appearance of good service standards but we all know what actually goes on here in the real world vs the Westminster bubble of the civil servants writing this grandiose sounding waffle. To be genuine HMRC should actively listen to those of us actually dealing with them daily - no chance of that ever happening.

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01st May 2020 11:35

I do have a copy of the original Taxpayers Charter and it is an Appendix to various books on Tax Investigations that I and colleagues wrote for Tolley's in the late 1980's. The line I always enjoyed quoting to HMRC from said Charter was.

"You will be presumed to have dealt with your tax affairs honestly unless there is reason to believe otherwise"

That presumption no longer seems to apply.

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By rbusfield
09th May 2020 15:55

I understand that the consultation has been extended 3 months to 15 August 2020 due to Covid19. Rebecca Busfield (Watt Busfield Tax Investigations LLP)

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