Invest in HMRC people and skills, urges Aplin

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The chairman of the ICAEW Tax Faculty’s technical committee issued a stirring call for more investment at HMRC to develop a better understanding of both its “customers” and tax law. John Stokdyk reports.

Delivering the annual Hardman lecture to an audience at Chartered Accountants Hall that included HMRC CEO Lin Homer and two of her board colleagues, technical committee chair Paul Aplin presented a small practitioner’s summary of where the department has been going wrong during the past eight years.

Aplin spoke with some authority. As well as being the first tax adviser to submit a tax return online - which he illustrated with a picture from 1997 - he also served as an external member of HMRC’s Carter project board. His insights gave added weight to his criticisms, which...

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About John Stokdyk

John Stokdyk is the global editor of AccountingWEB UK and


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15th Nov 2013 10:59

An interjection from the floor evidenced BIG changes

Paul proved himself to be one of the best presenters of the annual Hardman memorial lectures in recent years. His talk was hard hitting, authoritative and yet also constructive.

Despite all the valid criticisms he observed he also offered plenty of specific constructive ideas and I saw HMRC officials making notes of a number of these.

The stand out moment for me was not something that Paul said however, but an interjection and observation made from the floor. It came from a small practitioner (Mr S) who has long been a very vocal critic of HMRC. He and I sat on the same ICAEW Tax Faculty technical committees for some years. I have very strong memories of chairing meetings at which he took great exception to my suggestions that things might not be as bad as he thought. That perhaps his experiences were not typical; and that perhaps if he had a more open mind he would see that things were improving. Going back a few years he was having none of it. He was both overtly critical and cynical as to things ever changing.

When Mr S spoke at the Hardman event though this small practitioner had evidently changed his tune. To  anyone unfamiliar with Mr S's previous views it may just have sounded like one accountant sharing a few positive experiences and expressing hope that what he has seen reflects a positive changing trend. To me it was evidence that things are changing for the better.

If Mr S was prepared to publicly defend HMRC and to sound positive as regards the future then there is hope. And maybe it won't be too long before the changes espoused by Paul Aplin come to fruition.


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By Exector
15th Nov 2013 12:59

Responsibility is key

The one single thing that HMRC could do to make a virtually instantaneous improvement in service levels is to bring back some form of case-ownership. Given the lack of resources following the blood letting of the last 8 years, I am not arguing for an overall case allocation structure. Whilst that old system was clearly infinitely better than what exists now, in modern cheese-paring cost rather than quality focussed times, that is a non-starter. But they could have a structure to ensure that once contact is made with HMRC on a case, or vice versa, the responsibility remains with that officer or if referral is necessary to another named officer and remains with named individuals until resolution. It is personal case ownership that ensures responsibilities are not elided & problems or issues are actually resolved rather than left floating around waiting to be allocated or picked up  or batted around within an undifferentiated pool without substantive progress being made and nobody internally really knowing unless it becomes a complaint case.  My 2ps worth.   PS I totally support Paul Aplin's call for resource, but I'm not holding my breath on that.

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15th Nov 2013 17:07

I don't see any evidence for optimism

Maybe some people have been luckier than me.  I currently have three separate cases where PAYE monies paid by clients have been allocated to random businesses and / or suspense.

I got lucky on one of them.  I managed to get a guy who did a search for the amount paid on the whole tax database, and found it in suspense.  I asked for his name but he said there was not much point, as he was one of a large team and I could not ask for him personally.

The other 2 date back to April 2013 and other than debt collection HMRC seem to have taken no action, despite letters from me giving the bank references of the monies paid.

My last VAT number transfer from sole trader to limited - totally box standard, the guy had filed every return on time and paid every return on time - took THREE months whilst they dithered about God knows what.  I had done the application online.  At one point they wrote to me asking for some details, then refused the response because I had signed it not the client.

I can't be alone in getting replies saying "We note your letter.  We will get back to you in due course, HMRC."  These letters are within a week of my letter, they count as a response within the 15 day window of course.

I also note that I am getting cut off at times when I call HMRC and get to speak to someone, no doubt these calls also count as "successes" in their call answering statistics.

In the agent survey I gave HMRC 2 out of 10.  The lady talked me out of giving 1, she was nice so I made it 2.

I am always giving them in writing my suggestions for process improvement.  I hate to just knock the system, but there are easy peasy quick wins with nothing being done about them.

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By janefg
18th Nov 2013 11:30

Increasing HMRC budget

I am all for increasing HMRC's budget so that they can answer the phone and deal with problems efficiently.  At the moment the lack of dealing with everyday processing and problem solving is driving away taxpayers who are trying to be compliant, to they extent that they just give up.  All the money at HMRC seems to be going towards headline chasing of big tax evaders/avoiders rather than dealing with the boring would be compliant taxpayers.

HMRC needs to get its house in order so that we can rely on it to deal with routine matters in a timely manner.



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18th Nov 2013 12:42

Increasing HMRC Budget

The problems are not all HMRC's fault.  The Department, and the rest of us, are saddled with a tax system that has become so complex as to be almost unworkable.  It suffers from too much political tinkering that, in the long run, makes no difference.  Let's hope that George Osborne isn't tempted to do more posturing next month.  What is needed is a root and branch simplification.  Not easy, but essential.  It is not fair to devise a system so  complex,  pass most of the responsibility for getting it right away from HMRC to the taxpayer and then force the taxpayer to use online facilities (such as RTI, problems with which have occupied a great deal of space on this website for months).  In this case, sadly, the "customer" is not always right.                                                     

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18th Nov 2013 14:36

Automated systems v trained staff

Two very basic examples today of why automated systems cannot replace good trained staff. 

1. I rang the ordinary tax payer number rather than agent helpline. I was kept on the telephone for just short of five minutes while being taken through various messages and menus. When I got to an option of "speaking to an adviser" and selected that I received an automated message saying that "we are too busy to speak to you at the moment - goodbye" at which point I was cut off !

2. My aunt on the same day received, in three separate envelopes, three notices of coding for 2013/2014 showing codes of 521L, 165T and BR respectively for a small occupational pension. They all bear the same date 7 November, and all say the pension payer would be asked to use the code!  When I queried this (using the agent helpline) HMRC say that the introduction of RTI has created duplicate records and the problem is widespread.

In neither case will HMRC's management systems record these failures, and even if they did it is not telling them anything they do not know already, viz

3. Calls to your helpline by "customers" often go unanswered, and 

4. New systems need testing before introduction. 


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