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Hellen Megarry
Adjudicator's Office
Adjudicator Helen McGarry – Director on the Board of the Ombudsman Association

HMRC complaints review: Stick or plaster

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Should the Adjudicator have powers to require HMRC to change systemic issues that are generating complaints, and does it act vigorously enough in defence of taxpayers who get caught in the wheels of the system?

23rd Jul 2021
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The Adjudicator’s Office reviews and resolves (where possible) complaints against HMRC and the Valuation Office, which are referred to the Office. It produces an annual report of its work, which contains some shocking stories. 

This year the Adjudicator's Office seems to have done a stellar job, moving swiftly to home working in lockdown and dealing with a plethora of complaints arising from HMRC's work on coronavirus support, the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) and the self-employed income support scheme (SEISS). 

They resolved 25% more complaints than the previous year. Fewer complaints were upheld – 24% down from 35% – mainly because the Covid complaints seem to have been challenges to the statutory eligibility criteria which are outside HMRC's control or the Adjudicator's remit.

Reading between the lines, there seems to be a feeling that HMRC now cooperates more effectively with the Adjudicator and that there has been an improvement in departmental attitude. Much of the momentum seems to be from a cross-departmental "Complaints Insight Board"

Individual complaints 

Some of the case studies given in the annual report are shocking. There was a victim of domestic violence who was asked to prove a negative: that they didn't know a fraudulent tax credit claim was being made on their behalf. 

Their MP had to become involved to provide evidence they'd been a victim of domestic violence, and that they were clearly not living with the claimant because there was a non-molestation order in place. We aren't told what redress this person received other than the write off of the spurious debt. 

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Replies (13)

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By Hugo Fair
23rd Jul 2021 19:16

"the Adjudicator needs a stick to wield, not a stake to hold" ... excellent summary of an ineffectual situation.

Mind you we seem to acquiesce in this model all over the place (from Professional Standards within Institutes, to Police Complaints Authority and many others in NHS etc) ... all protecting their vested interests and almost ignoring the individual (whether taxpayer, patient or putative criminal).

Systemic change is needed to give a voice to those without power ... but that will require those with their hands in the till currently to act like turkeys voting for christmas, so there may be a stage wait.

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By kaff
23rd Jul 2021 20:10

“Perhaps it should have the power to impose significant penalties on the rare occasion HMRC gets it badly wrong.”
Surely though as HMRC is funded out of the public purse, that would just mean the tax paying public coughing up?

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Replying to kaff:
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By Hugo Fair
24th Jul 2021 13:45

Yes, but a) the individual who has suffered (often badly) is recompensed; and b) it's the only way in which to guarantee publicity on underlying errors/ineptitude of a public body (although it can still take many years - see the Post Office saga).

Frankly it'd be a better use of some of my tax than the amount that is currently used to prop up ongoing inefficiencies within HMRC (that if corrected would reduce costs and increase the revenue stream - an unusual 'win-win' for govt)!

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Replying to Hugo Fair:
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By kaff
24th Jul 2021 14:51

Except a) the individual who has suffered already gets recompensed out of public money according to the report and b) HMRC's behaviour is already getting publicity via the report so it’s not obvious how charging them a penalty would guarantee any more publicity. What generated the publicity in the Post Office case was the rehearing of criminal fraud trials which got overturned, not the imposition of penalties.

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RLI
By lionofludesch
24th Jul 2021 17:35

The real problem is the ridiculous cut-costs-and-raise-revenues policy instigated by Cameron's austerity government.

HMRC are under-staffed and the staff they have lack technical knowledge.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
27th Jul 2021 13:37

This.

HMRC lack any real depth of talent, and staff are left battling with inept systems developed, in part, due to the lack of depth of talent by people who don't know how the system should work, or how tax payers will interact, so leading to ludicrous creations such as the 30 day report and pay fiasco.

Moreover by putting lengthy phone call delays and "call handlers" in front of the 'do'ers" they have made previously quick tasks which you could get done there and then on the phone into a tortuous chain of "take call", "refer call", "call ignored", "take another call", "raise complaint", "deal with complaint", "possibly action request, or possibly go back round the chain again". The extra workload for HMRC must be phenomenal, as well as for us.

Even really basic systems such as "print out statements and send to customer" are mired in delay and lack of ambition, which result in a flood of calls to us and presumably HMRC when a client files a tax return in June, and then gets a statement that has come from data extracted weeks earlier from HMRC's systems. They cant seem to understand that having a system of "print statement from todays data, and post out today" would save a huge amount of time and effort for them, as well as for the tax payer given if its wrong, they the client may have overpaid (meaning a refund process), or underpaid (meaning a chaser is required) and probably queried it with HMRC.

None of this will be solved by MTD which hugely ups the number of times HMRC will be interacted with.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By johnjenkins
27th Jul 2021 14:14

So let's get this right. You have no confidence in HMRC, think they're inept, talentless, lack of understanding and not fit for purpose?

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Replying to johnjenkins:
RLI
By lionofludesch
27th Jul 2021 14:24

johnjenkins wrote:

So let's get this right. You have no confidence in HMRC, think they're inept, talentless, lack of understanding and not fit for purpose?

Well, it's what I think.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By johnjenkins
27th Jul 2021 14:33

I and many others also. You would think someone would sit up and take notice. Shows to go what they think of us.

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By johnjenkins
26th Jul 2021 12:18

Great article, Wendy, but let's face it the adjudicator is mainly only for show.
HMRC will never change their systems because of complaints and from the look of the way things are going it will only get worse. I had hoped Rishi would generate some umph in changing an antiquated system, but still the same old stuff spews out.
Let's look at it another way. Boris has the chance of a lifetime to correct all the bad stuff in one go. We've spent Billions on covid so a few more billion won't matter. Never going to happen though.
Wendy you only have to look at the posts from Accountants et al on this site to get a sense of complaints and what is going wrong.

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By Rgab1947
26th Jul 2021 12:45

What's the point. The boss will still get his huge pension and get a sinecure in the House of Lords.

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By dogevid
29th Jul 2021 09:09

If the Adjudicator's casework uncovers a systemic issue, then yes, of course, they should ask HMRC to draw wider conclusions but that's not their primary function surely? https://instasave.onl/w3toys/

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Replying to dogevid:
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By dogevid
29th Jul 2021 09:11

Their job is to deal with complaints at the granular level, to offer redress to individuals who have been caught like grains of sand in the cogs of the HMRC machinery. https://vidmate-apk.in/home/

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