Homer's odyssey: From d'oh to Dame
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.
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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.”