HMRC trials ‘Hitchhiker's Guide to tax law’

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HMRC is trialling the use of ‘visualisation maps’ to help people make sense of the UK’s labyrinthine tax laws and regulations.

HMRC has described the initiative as a tax law version of the science fiction series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Currently British tax law runs to 6,102 pages, four times the length of the complete works of Shakespeare.

The maps are mainly aimed at government officials, and according to HMRC the trial is still in its infancy so they are unable to provide examples.

However, an HMRC spokesperson explained that the visualisation maps graphically display legislation, policy and tax processes. The aim is to make it easier for government civil servants to understand their department’s work.

Officials hope that by seeing legislation clearly visualised, government workers will be able to spot where efforts are duplicated, and where there are inconsistencies in the law. 

“Government authorities in the Netherlands have been using these visualisation maps across a range of policy areas to test for areas where there is duplication or inconsistency”, said an HRMC spokesperson. “We are exploring whether the same approach could help HMRC improve the administration of the UK’s tax regulations.”

The maps are the being trialled as part of the government’s ‘Good Law’ initiative, which aims to make legislation more coherent and accessible. “These tax visualisations tie into three tenets of the Good Law initiative, namely that laws must be clear, coherent and accessible”, said HMRC.

The main aim of the ‘Good Law’ initiative, launched in 2013, is to encourage ministers and officials to write laws in plain English.

The visualisation maps trial is being led by Nick Birks, head of HMRC’s customer insight and knowledge team. In a blog post written late last year, Birks explained, “HMRC administers a galaxy of tax law built up over decades in response to different priorities, but that’s where the connection ends. Although we have experts in every area of legislation, there’s no complete guide available to them showing what all these are.”

About Francois Badenhorst


I'm AccountingWEB's business editor. Feel free to get in touch with comments, tips, scoops or irreverent banter. 


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08th Jan 2016 18:39


Good luck with that.

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08th Jan 2016 19:24

Here's one to visualise: those affected by the VATMOSS VATMESS are now being told that if they aren't a "business" they needn't trouble their pretty little heads about it all...  So you can be a "trade" for IT purposes but not a "business" for VAT.  Lovely! (see:

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08th Jan 2016 20:53

Reminds me of Gods final message to his creation from the fourth part of Douglas Adams trilogy:

"We apologise for the inconvenience"

or is it a reference to the special and general theories of Disaster Area tax returns?

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08th Jan 2016 22:53

Maybe this is HMRC trying to tap into youth culture... 'What are the kids into these days? My son Bernard tells me Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is quite hip.'

Share and enjoy!

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09th Jan 2016 15:53

HMRC ought to take a lesson

HMRC ought to take  a lesson from the Babel fish and appreciate that attempting to improve communication and understanding is probably not a good idea ;but would however be apt as the Babel fish is also leech like.

"Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation

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11th Jan 2016 11:04

So, I can finally spend a year dead for tax purposes now?

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By hiu612
11th Jan 2016 11:18

At least they're trying

Good luck to them.

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11th Jan 2016 12:01


Perhaps when the MPs can see the structure they'll understand the UK needs to simplify everything to the bare essential.  Tax needs to be simpler for business, there need be fewer civil servants (and their overheads) so everything would be much more efficient! 

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By adagen
11th Jan 2016 16:41

In the same way that 42 was the single answer to life, the universe and everything, HMRC has a single answer to every tax question - U O US.

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By Briar
11th Jan 2016 18:33

And the Question was ...

What does 9 times 6 equal? But do HMRC know why it equals 42? 

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