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Rebecca Cave tackles new HMRC charter

19th Jan 2016
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HMRC has amended the document they refer to as “Your Charter” which was first published in 2009. It replaced the Inland Revenue Taxpayer’s Charter which was published in the 20th century.

It seems poetic that the wooden panel bearing the respected Taxpayer’s Charter was mysteriously lost when the newly formed HMRC moved out of Somerset House on The Strand. The charter (whatever it’s called) is important as it governs the relationship between HMRC and taxpayers, and also the separate but important relationship between HMRC and the taxpayer’s representatives.

I am concerned that the relationship between the taxpayer and the tax authority looks very different under the new charter compared with the old. I have set out the old and new obligations for each party under the charter in the tables below. The new obligations are matched where possible to the equivalent old wording.

HMRC obligations

Old Charter New Charter  
1. Respect you 1. Respect you and treat you as honest
2. Help and support you to get things right
3. Treat you as honest
4. Treat you even-handedly
5. Be professional and act with integrity 3. Be professional and act with integrity
6.Tackle people who deliberately break the rules and challenge those who bend the rules 7. Tackle people who break or bend the rules
7. Protect your information and respect your privacy  4. Protect your information and respect your privacy 
8. Accept that someone else can represent you 5. Accept that someone else can represent you
9. Do all we can to keep the cost of dealing with you as low as possible. 2. Provide a helpful, efficient and effective service
6. Deal with complaints quickly and fairly
The notable omission from the new obligations for HMRC is number 9: to keep the costs of dealing with the taxpayer as low as possible. Within the old charter this was explained as HMRC aiming to take up as little of the taxpayer’s time and money as possible. This target must have been difficult to meet while taxpayers and tax agents were waiting an average of 38 minutes to speak to human at HMRC (2015 survey by Which), and paying for the cost of those wasted minutes.

The new charter takes the emphasis off costs, and instead highlights “efficiency and effectiveness”. This means HMRC will deal with information quickly and efficiently, but doesn’t aim to answer the phone quickly or efficiently, although the detail in the new charter does say “and keep any costs to you at a minimum.”

The other omission that worries me is number 4: to treat taxpayers even-handedly. Under the new charter this obligation appears to have been rolled into number 1: respect you and treat you as honest. However, I feel that a lot has been lost in this new interpretation as the old charter said HMRC would:

  • act within the law and our published guidance
  • help you understand your legal rights
  • explain what you can do if you disagree with our decisions or want to make a complaint
  • provide you with information in a way that meets your particular needs
  • consider any financial difficulties you may be having.                                                                       

Taxpayer’s obligations

The taxpayer’s obligations under the old charter were very simple – just three things to remember. The new charter adds six new obligations. I can’t argue with numbers 3 and 4 as the tax law requires the taxpayer to keep accurate records, and to understand what their tax payment and filing obligations are.

However, I am not happy about number 2: work with us to get thing right. The detail behind this obligation says the taxpayer should: talk to us if there is anything you’re not sure about. Also under obligation number 3 the taxpayer is urged to: get in touch with us as soon as possible if you need help. Tell us straight away if you’re having trouble meeting your obligations. So the obligation is on the taxpayer to contact HMRC, but how is the taxpayer supposed to do that if HMRC won’t answer their phones or reply to letters?

Old Charter New Charter  
1.    Be honest 1.Be honest and respect our staff
2.    Respect our staff
3.    Take care to get things right 7. Take reasonable care to avoid mistakes
2.Work with us to get things right
3.Find out what you need to do and keep us informed
4. Keep accurate records and protect your information.
5.Know what your representative does on your behalf
6.Respond in good time

The obligation that really sticks in my throat is number 6: respond in good time. This means submitting tax returns on time, paying tax by the due date and paying penalties and interest promptly. That is all reasonable for the taxpayer, but why is there no balancing obligation on HMRC to respond to letters in good time, answer the phone within five rings and refund tax without delay?

The HMRC goal of dealing with complaints quickly and fairly is not an equivalent to responding in good time, although it has been placed next to that obligation for the taxpayer.

The new version of Your Charter was not widely consultated on in advance (if at all?), unlike the previous version which was subject to extensive and detailed consultation. It was also slipped out in the middle of January, when many tax practitioners are working all possible hours to ensure their clients meet the self-assessment filing and payment deadlines.

I am not impressed.

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Replies (8)

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By SteLacca
21st Jan 2016 08:53

I've never been impressed with HMRCs Charter, especially compared with the Inland Revenue's Taxpayer's Charter. The old Inland Revenue committed to responding to correspondence timeously, and to answer calls quickly.

I remember my days in the IR, with a post count every week. Anything more than 14 days old was practically worthy of a hanging offence. Staff had an allocation of taxpayers, which meant that there was consistency and the taxpayer knew who to speak to, often having a direct geographic number.

IR had taxpayers, not "customers", and the staff were by and large conscientious, happy and motivated, and if the taxpayer was polite would go out of their way to fix problems. Most staff were on first name terms with local accountants and tax advisers, often going so far as socialising together.

Then came HMRC, the staff were pruned and trimmed, and then beaten into submission by an ignorant government and management team. Their morality, motivation and accountability was destroyed, their work was, first centralised, and then thrown far and wide so that no-one had to take responsibility anymore. Taxpayers were replaced by customers and the Taxpayers Charter was burned in an unholy ceremony attended only by the most senior of the idiots as they planned the further decimation of staff.

The co-operation between HMRC and grass roots agents was first eroded, and then dispensed with altogether, and every effort was made to prevent anyone being able to contact anyone in HMRC.

Which brings us to the dark days we now face, where the entire responsibility and accountability for ensuring that the correct taxes are paid lies firmly with the taxpayer, HMRCs role having been reduced to enforcer, and this new role is exactly what is enshrined in "The Charter".

Thanks (11)
By Wendy Bradley
19th Jan 2016 15:59

Who watches the watchers

It looks to me as if some tidy-minded person has just decided that there need to be the same number of clauses relating to the taxpayer as those relating to HMRC, as though it was an equal power relationship which clearly it isn't.  I'm also curious what happened to the Charter Advisory Board which was supposed to have a majority of non-HMRC members but for which only four external places were advertised, under absurdly restrictive conditions and short deadlines.  Haven't seen any announcement of who was appointed?

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By Rebecca Cave
19th Jan 2016 16:52

Charter advisory committee has been appointed

 see previous aticle on this topic:https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/article/hmrc-quietly-alters-tax-payer-charter/595448

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
19th Jan 2016 18:02

Timely, I've just posted the following on another website  as part of an answer to someone who submitted their tax return by post in early October but got fined £100 because HMRC took 5 weeks to open their envelope:

"HMRC top management are what in any other sector would be called fraudsters. They deliberately under-resource areas like their post room, answering mail in 12 weeks or more. They do this full in the knowledge that their systems will automtically churn out penalties. Many will appeal them and I urge the OP to do so. But many will just cough up, which is easy - but fraudulent - money for HMRC.

When I first started dealing with the Revenue as it was then - 1990 - you could at least rely on an element of fairness and integrity. No longer. Over time that ethos has been totally destroyed by cynical management, incompetence and cost-cutting."

It's a disgrace that a country like ours operates a 2 out of 10 tax service these days.  And then we make a Dame out of the clown at the top!

 

Thanks (4)
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By carolelmcarre
20th Jan 2016 19:31

HMRC work for us, don't they?

I pay taxes and my taxes pay for the government and for governmental departments and agencies.  Like many people I want to keep my personal tax at a reasonable level, but I also want my money to be spent wisely. And I also want the departments that I pay for to be reasonably accountable to me.

 

HMRC has done a great job of transferring the costs of compliance with tax regimes onto the end user, (or their accountants).  I have spent many happy hours listening to the phone musak whilst waiting (usually in vain) to get a response which will answer a legitimate query and enable me to get on with my job.  Unfortunately, the dumbing down of the majority of front end staff, (and we must be thankful that at least they have not outsourced their call centres abroad as yet, so I can actually understand the NIL response that I usually get), frequently means that (after having been informed that the answers to many queries can be found on the .gov website) I end up being told that I have rung the wrong department (my query is too specialised), or being referred back to a 'helpsheet' which is too basic to deal with my query.

 

There is no way that I can legitimately charge my clients for this wasted time. So I am paying twice.  Once for the substandard service, and once again in my time and effort trying to get some clarity about the ridiculously complex tax system.

I do have to say, that on the infrequent times when I have actually got through to a specialised department, I have found the advice to be good and the staff to be helpful.

 

However - what do I think?  Hold them to account.  HMRC work for us.  We do NOT work for them.  What I am not clear about is how we can actually go about changing their performance.

 

Any ideas?

 

 

Thanks (2)
By Marion Hayes
25th Jan 2016 08:52

No preconceptions

I think it is important that we approach each contact with HMRC as if it is going to be exactly what we need. I am sorry if you think that is naïve but I know that you reap what you sow.

If you talk to one of the many helpful staff that are there, the last thing we want is for them to be disillusioned with us by our attitude.

At the weekend I spoke to a very helpful lady who, during our conversation as to which department I should talk to, advised me that within each 'team' every member was looking to take on certain specialties as well as SA and hers was payments. My response that on my next call I wished I could get through to her again (I had thought they could only deal with one taxpayer per call) she said we could cover as many issues etc as I wanted as long as they were within her area. We talked about P60 details, PAYE payment allocations, and underpayment coding issues.

If I could, like Amazons emails, I would have liked to send back a thank you very much, great service feedback. As it is I just hope that, even if she gives answers we don't like, one or many of us don't treat her badly enough to stop her being as helpful in the future.

Carolelmcarre is right to say that at least we are still talking to UK people - having had a very frustrating Christmas and New Year talking to India (BT and Barclaycard) because my answers didn't fit the script - things could be a lot worse!!

 

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By SteLacca
25th Jan 2016 09:50

Conversely, last week I spoke to five separate people in HMRC with regards to bankruptcy and due dates, looking for a specific answer in specific circumstances. Not a single one of them has been able to answer (including the specialists at the Insolvency unit).

Whilst the staff were polite, the fact that none of them can answer a question regarding their own policy does not fill me with confidence.

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By Marion Hayes
25th Jan 2016 10:18

True

but next time they talk to someone will being unable to help you have put them off or actually motivated them to find out?

Inspectors being partially trained came in in the eighties - well before our current problems started. Finding the one Inspector in your local district who understood the topic, or a fully trained Inspector, was like finding gold dust. Insolvency in itself is a specialist subject out here as well as in HMRC with a myriad of different rules and exceptions.

 

 

  

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