TV makers latch on to tax

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John Stokdyk
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It’s tax week on television, with two documentaries probing the nature of the UK tax system and the inner workings of HMRC.  The BBC’s long-delayed Panorama documentary kicked off proceedings on Monday night with Tax: Are you one of the six million? (available via BBC’s iPlayer until 15 Nov). The response from members and other accountants was dismissive:

  • In an Any Answers thread started by Richard Willis, Constantly Confused commented: “I just enjoyed how outraged my wife got while watching it while I just nodded and said, ‘Yep, that’s happened to our clients.’ It’s pretty depressing that nothing in the program shocked me, it was all things I had seen first hand, and I’m sure I’m not alone.”
  • “Quite lazy journalism,” added Jason Dormer. “For an organisation that size, to find only two whistleblowers coming out with "Management don’t listen to staff" etc was hardly cutting edge. And they didn’t tell us anything about the coding notices that most of the public didn’t know already.”
  • In a sequence of posts on his Tax Buzz blog, Mark Lee considered the documentary “a mishmash that attempted to cover too many disparate topics” that failed as a result to reach any meaningful conclusions.

Round two of TV’s tax season goes out at 9pm on Channel 4 tonight (Thursday 11 Nov). According to the pre-publicity, Britain’s trillion pound horror show will be a polemical film presented by Martin Durkin explaining the £4.8 trillion hole that the country has dug itself into.  

This time, Richard Murphy has led the profession’s critical charge. In his

Tax Research blog

, he pointed out, “Durkin has a history of producing documentaries that have been open to challenge with regard to the facts,” notably with last Channel 4 documentary that questioned the imapact of global warming. The Tax horror show documentary is not so much based on fact as a desire to radically transform the structure of our society, he argued.

  “The distributional issue… becomes the tail that wags the whole tax reform and economic dog. If all you’re going to do is worry about overnight winners and losers in a static view of life you’re going to consign yourself to a slow stagnation,” argued the tax justice campaigner.   Take the opportunity to be a TV critic yourself and let us know what you think of them by posting your comments below.


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11th Nov 2010 11:15


I dont think accountants can really pass judgement on these programmes.

Yes - they are "sexed up" - but remember they are aimed at the general public whose knowledge of tax is minimal, they are not intended to be technical in depth looks at HMRC.


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11th Nov 2010 22:03

What it tells me is this...

Lets see if this works.


I know about tax. So I know the media is misrepresenting issues due to the over-simplification designed to make the programme more user friendly. Due to my knowledge this means I can make a judgement that the programme, to some extent at least, is misinforming the public.I can see that expert "talking heads" and "rent-a-quotes" are employed to condense a complex subject into a 10 second soundbite that is highly unlikely to give a balanced reflection.I don't know about a lot of other issues. So I don't know when the media is misrepresenting issues in those cases. But I know from experience that they do at least some of the time.


I should think carefully before forming a view based on a newspaper or TV report.I had better inform myself rather than rely on the media.


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12th Nov 2010 10:51

Tax (what else?)

Take the entire UK tax system completely out of the hands of politicians! Their meddling has shown, on far too many occasions, that they are not up to the mark to manage the country's finances let alone their own. Political opportunism, and pre-election statements, should be left to politicians and the media.

We are once again left with a tax system which is more complicated and less simplified . Shortcomings within HMRC are not of their making. HMRC works within legislation set by politicians and 'sloppy' legal draughtsmanship. HMRC is suffering from low morale, shortage of manpower and a computer system more suited to a large company and not a national tax system. Why in heaven's name are PAYE notices of coding not also tagged with the UTR?

Do not blame HMRC!


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By 3569787
03rd May 2016 16:42

Clear message!


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12th Nov 2010 11:58

Re 6,000,000,000,000

There is a place for government and a place for the private sector. Unfortunately various governements have increased the size of their place possibly because of voter apathy, stealth or accident. No the State is too big and the private sector too small. Let's have a debate on what size both should be. I reckon 75% private 25% public not as at the moment 55% public 45% private.

I long for the day when I can provide for my own pension and save for a rainy day. My tax bill would be far less.

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12th Nov 2010 18:20

HMRC failings

The programme clearly painted a poor picture of the Inland Revenue and it was sad that they felt unable to offer an apology to all those taxpayers affected until no doubt pressed.

Those of us in the profession have worked round the inadequte systems in operation over several years just so that their clients are protected BUT this is not fair for those taxpayers who wish to deal with their affairs themselves. It is their right to do that but as those of us in the profession know the tax system is overly complicated mismatched still full of rubbish and tries to cover all conceivable possibilities

It is about time the Government/Inland Revenue acknowledged that 95% of taxpayers are honest and want no hassle so that they and their advisers can sleep easy!

The coalition now needs to move towards a radical change to simlplification as it is trying to do with benefits.

Go for it and show you care about fairness




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13th Nov 2010 11:17

BBC & The Tax Man - PAYE

The BBC have produced an excellent Radio 4 prog. dealing with the PAYE situation which is well woth listening to by downloading the broadcast from:  and looking for - The Report: Taxman troubles 23 Sep 10

This prog. has been carefully researched and gives a very interesting persepctive on HMRC management.


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13th Nov 2010 12:11


Based on the emails that I have received over the past month or so, I suspect that Panorama had more than just two "whistleblowers".

However, do not forget that those who work for HMRC can find themselves on the wrong end of OSA if they publicly come forward and spill the beans.

Since the Panorama prog was aired, HMRC management have issued another internal warning to staff not to talk to the media.

Re the £4.8 trillion, it is indeed the politicians who have mortgaged this country's future

Less government is the way forward, coupled with a simplified tax system.

Ken Frost

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14th Nov 2010 16:01

Its simple, you have got to go back to the way things used to be, with Tax Officers in charge of allocations, or groups of individuals and keep on tracking them throughout their career.


I dont know what it is that HMRC are supposed to be doing; now there are thousands filing their own returns, yet the system is in a worse state than it ever was. Does nobody in the HMRC know anything about tax? What a ridiculous state to get into?

Someone needs to unpick the whole system and quick.


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15th Nov 2010 09:03

panorama programme

I as an ex Revenue employee and now tax advisor, I was frustrated by the programme as I wanted to know the reasons for the tax arrears of the `case studies`. I know the producers have to aim the conent at the `non-expert` but that only adds to the sensationalism, and I suspect that in most cases the individuals concerned knew that they were paying too little, and thought that no one would come after them.

It also disturbed me that most of the `case study` individuals, ultimately had their tax bills quashed. In one case this was £11000. Great for that guy but as a person who has always paid the exact amount of tax, every year I find this disturbing. If he hasn`t had to pay any of this back then those of us who pay correctly are effectively being victimised. He may not be able to pay £11000 as a lump sum but I would always rather have payment over a number of years rather than not getting anything at all.

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16th Nov 2010 15:37

With apparent 100% success in cases it handled ….

.... I think I’ll pass all my HMRC disputes on to the BBC! No need to bother with tribunals etc.

 But seriously – I wonder whether HMRC really caved in as quickly as the BBC implied, or did the BBC actually take more cases to HMRC and only discussed the ones they won?

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16th Nov 2010 16:59

Scrap notices of coding and replace it with collections only PAY

I think that half the problem is that inordinate amounts of time are spent within HMRC generating notices of coding.


This could be scrapped and replaced with a system of standard allowances; everyone who is working will be allowed £10,000 against their initial employment, which will still be notifiued on P45 or P46. Any subsequent employment will be done with the employer declaring (on penalty of prosecution) that this is their only or main job, or not as the case may be.

If they fail to fill in any form, tax will be deducted at basic rate. Incorrect submission or suspected lying on the P46/P45 will also result in tax being deducted at basic rate.

The employer will deduct tax at 20% after allowances. The employer will be given a guide as to what to do in various circumstances. Notices of coding will no longer be issued.

At the end of the year ALL PAYE customers will be sent a simplified form asking their employments. This will be cross referenced with all P46 and P45 forms received and cross correlated with employer returns. All this information can be fed in online from employers to HMRC Central along with monthly remittances.

There should be no need for teams of clerks to be engaged in a coding process and the shift should be from coding to assessing and collecting.

This is part of my contribution to tax simplification. Thanks.





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