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HMRC: No AI was used in the making of this letter

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The tax department has clarified it does not use artificial intelligence programs to create any of the 130m letters it sends annually. Instead, it uses a combination of automated systems, templates and manual processes to write and dispatch taxpayer correspondence.

27th Mar 2024
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At the beginning of March, an HMRC letter landed on the doormat at Devonports LAS accountants. At first glance, its spelling and grammar led Tim Howard, joint CEO at the Maldon-based firm, to believe that the correspondence was part of a scam attempt.

HMRC letter
Devonport LAS

For those unable to access the image above, a sample of the copy reads: “Please except [sic] my apology for the delay in responding to you regarding unable to [sic] access some of your clients which you listed [sic].”

Howard stated that at first, the firm did question its authenticity. However, he spotted that the subject matter was relevant to several ongoing issues the firm had running with HMRC, marking it out as genuine correspondence.

“The big problem was if I had no idea as to the relevance, could you imagine telephoning and quoting any of the references that were shown?” said Howard. “Most certainly security would not have been passed and a long call would have been wasted.”

AccountingWEB raised Devonports LAS’s case with HMRC and received the following response from a spokesperson: “We apologise for the quality of the letter, which falls substantially short of our usual high standards for customer correspondence. We have extensive guidance and training in place for writing letters and the vast majority of the millions of letters we issue every year do not receive complaints.”

Ermal Krutani, director at Devonports LAS, put the letter on social media platform LinkedIn, leading some tax professionals to speculate that it could be the work of artificial intelligence (AI) systems. However, the Revenue was quick to rebut this, telling AccountingWEB: “HMRC does not use ChatGPT or other AI programs to create correspondence.”

How did this happen?

While no official explanation was given by HMRC for the individual letter received by Devonports LAS, it seems likely to have been a mixture of what one commenter described as “death by template”, human error and a lack of checking.

HMRC sends around 130m letters a year to individuals and businesses. A spokesperson confirmed to AccountingWEB that the vast majority of letters sent are system-generated – in other words, created by IT systems using taxpayer data to generate letters based on standard templates. Only 1.8% of letters sent by HMRC are written using free text functionality.

Examples of taxpayer data used to automatically populate templates can include tax account details, amounts owed or due for refund, deadlines, and specific instructions or actions required from the taxpayer.

HMRC advisers can create letters using standardised templates. These are managed and made available using a template management system. There are different templates for different subject matters or scenarios – for example, research and development (R&D) tax relief, personal tax notifications, reminders and queries. Certain sections of the templates can be customised or personalised by an HMRC employee with specific details relevant to its recipient.

Free text functionality

In some cases, a standard template doesn’t meet the taxpayer’s situation and HMRC staff need to write bespoke letters, what the Revenue refers to as “free text functionality”.

HMRC told AccountingWEB that staff who need to write bespoke letters are “proactively offered online and in-person writing training”, and as and when quality control issues arise, remedial training is offered.

Most non-system-generated letters are sent by HMRC’s customer service and compliance staff, but other teams are authorised to send letters when necessary.

Staff creating free text letters are expected to proofread their work and use tools to check spelling, punctuation and grammar before sending. HMRC teams that create the most free text letters are also offered additional training to ensure correspondence is clear, concise and accurate.

In the past, Revenue managers used to sample-check letters in an officer’s post to pick up the need for advice or training or confirm the officer’s output. AccountingWEB asked HMRC if such a system was in place now, but did not receive a response.

Signature not always included

Devonports LAS’s letter was not signed – another flag that initially raised suspicions that it may not be genuine. However, HMRC confirmed to AccountingWEB that a staff member’s name is not always attached – this depends on the type of letter sent.

“A lot of the time, a team will work together on a case for a customer,” said HMRC’s spokesperson. “Where this happens, correspondence will use the plural ‘we’. For example, a letter may say ‘We have received X/we have actioned Y’. In these cases a letter is often signed off as a team, or an Officer of HM Revenue & Customs. Other teams dealing with more complex work, such as compliance, will deal directly with the customer and work the case from beginning to end. Where this is the case, an individual will sign off their letter with their name and position.”

Replies (51)

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By Justin Bryant
27th Mar 2024 17:35

Surely the main AI give away is no spelling/grammar errors, not the opposite (as in this case). Of course, typos get added deliberately to put people off the scent, but no self-respecting flimflammer would make the typos as bad as this, so they must have been made by a genuine idiot.

Incidentally, I hear R&D tax credit claim cowboys use AI for their dodgy claims and dealing with HMRC enquires, which is of course entirely unsurprising.

Thanks (4)
the sea otter
By memyself-eye
27th Mar 2024 18:34

A-1?
If only they were that clever
Back in the day we wus tort to spell propa loike...
These days no one seems to be able to elucidate his majesty's English- not no more anyways.

Thanks (9)
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
27th Mar 2024 22:58

We got a letter today explaining that an overpayment had arisen because of an overpayment. Even AI, with all its problems, isn't typically that dumb.

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By FactChecker
28th Mar 2024 01:03

Frankly the artificiality or otherwise is irrelevant - a simpler (if less interesting) headline might be ...

HMRC: No I was used in the making of this letter

It's rather obvious but, in this context at least, the method/source of generation is not the issue.
The example shows (a) no-one checks before it's issued, and (b) no-one cares ... and that = HMRC!

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By JustAnotherUser
28th Mar 2024 08:03

bigger question is why they are not using generative AI & automation, it would likely be one of the greatest cost saving exercises they have ever done.

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Replying to JustAnotherUser:
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By Finacta
28th Mar 2024 09:19

Totally! But with the rate HMRC advances their tech stack and processes generally, we might expect them to dip their toe in AI in about 20 years from now.

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Replying to JustAnotherUser:
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By indomitable
28th Mar 2024 13:12

And probably provide more sensible responses!!

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By paulwakefield1
28th Mar 2024 08:27

It has the hallmarks of a dictated letter by someone not use to dictation and a complete failure to proof read.

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Replying to paulwakefield1:
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By Brend201
01st Apr 2024 18:00

.... by someone "not used to dictation" - a common error nowadays.

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By pjd17mini
28th Mar 2024 09:30

Maybe they should be using it.. some intelligence may be better than none, even if it is artificial..

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Replying to pjd17mini:
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By Brian2611
28th Mar 2024 09:39

I agree.

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By snickersinatwix
28th Mar 2024 09:31

AI would do a better job than some of the letters I have had recently. Grammar, spelling, sentences stopping half way through...........

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By Duggimon
28th Mar 2024 09:32

An AI would be able to put in the name of the VAT registered business when sending out a VAT letter.

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Replying to Duggimon:
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By indomitable
28th Mar 2024 13:19

Yes this is completely ludicrous, how much time we waste in trying to figure out who the client is.

Total incompetence! wouldn't happen in any other sphere. Can you imagine any provider of any service or anything else sending out a letter with just a reference number on it, no name, no address of the client just a NUMBER!!! How can someone let this happen??

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Replying to indomitable:
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By Paul Crowley
29th Mar 2024 00:30

The penalty and points letters look like my firm is getting the penalty. They just stick my firm's name and address where the client name and address would be. No reference to 'your client' just 'you'.
I now use the VAT number checker each time. I still get quite a few for former clients from 4 years plus ago.

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Replying to indomitable:
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By HL86
03rd Apr 2024 07:41

With our practices name on top. Looks like we can't even file our own VAT returns

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Replying to Duggimon:
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By Jdopus
29th Mar 2024 13:33

For me, this minor piece of stupidity just demonstrates the absolute contempt HMRC have for anyone who has to interact with them.

It would cost them literally nothing to show the name of the client, and yet not a single person involved in this entire process even considered the fact that accountants might receive 20 of these letters every day and now have to check them manually.

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Replying to Jdopus:
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By FactChecker
29th Mar 2024 16:12

Actually for once, their contempt for us has been trumped by their unutterable idiocy ... it was a deliberate, conscious decision (made many moons ago by someone long departed) who had been told that printing taxpayer's details might breach the then Data Protection regs (particularly since they were wedded to paper in a brown envelope - which the Mail frequently delivers to unrelated random addresses).

Their contempt is however on show in that they resolutely refuse to reconsider this policy decision (or its incorrect basis) made by an unreformed dinosaur who may now be extinct.

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By Rob Swan
28th Mar 2024 09:37

HMRC, you are RUBBISH!!!!
Just another symptom of a much larger problem.
Nobody believes your excuses. Your efforts have negative worth.
A little honest admission that your train has long since been running off the rails would be appreciated by taxpayers and tax and accounting professionals generally. Defending your position is insulting to those you are employed to serve.
We expect you the get your act (Sh-1-T) together.
Apparently you are completely incapable of doing so.

Angry from England.
(I'm now going out to let off some steam. I may be some time!)

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By Brian2611
28th Mar 2024 09:38

I received two letters from HMRC in the same post signed by the same person, one told me the appeal I made on behalf of my client was successful. The next letter told me that the appeal had been unsuccessful. It’s good to cover all bases.

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By agknight
28th Mar 2024 09:41

I'm drawn to the HMRC saying they have 'usual high standards' and don't receive many complaints. What complacency.

I would suggest that the majority of specific letters we receive are of a poor standard. As an example I have one client who refuses to answer a particular letter, because they believe it a scam. I'm on the fence because another client has a similar letter which is genuine. But i'm not certain - so we are awaiting a second letter.....in about a year!

Why would I bother to complain. I'd spend all of my day complaining. Its plain as a pike staff that HMRC letters are poorly written and they shouldn't need telling.

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By alisonis
28th Mar 2024 09:44

Love it HMRC proud to admit they are dumber than AI.

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By taxinfo
28th Mar 2024 09:54

There are other errors in that letter. Perhaps minor but, nonetheless, they are present.

“….also offered additional training to ensure correspondence is clear, concise and accurate”

HMRC personnel who write letters should be taught to follow all five tenets (clear, concise, complete, courteous and correct) and to avoid split infinitives.

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Replying to taxinfo:
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By richard thomas
28th Mar 2024 10:51

What is the basis for your apparently gratuitous reference to that hoary old point about proscribing so called split infinitives?

HMRC seem to go out of their way to avoid them, often with clunky results.

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Replying to richard thomas:
By Duggimon
28th Mar 2024 11:48

I'm always of a view one should strive to boldly split infinitives no man [sic] has split before.

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By K81
28th Mar 2024 10:00

when i worked at HMRC many moons ago we had letter templates that needed different parts adjusting or deleting before sending out - some staff found this idea difficult & just printed the letter as it stood without modifying - I assume that this is still occurring.

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Replying to K81:
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By Rob Swan
28th Mar 2024 13:37

In which case the letter in question raises even more concerns!

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Replying to K81:
By SteveHa
03rd Apr 2024 09:09

Ahh, during my tenure at HMRC we all had dictaphones.

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By Malcolm Henderson
28th Mar 2024 10:33

Not surprised. The quality of a lot of the R&D enquiry letters, particularly the ISBC Unit is appalling. The actions-ignoring the HMRC Charter, LSS and their guidance-also leaves a lot to be desired. Someone at HMRC needs to get a grip. They don't need to replicate the chaos of their political masters!

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By daz.coad
28th Mar 2024 10:51

Surely the headline should be "HMRC: No Intelligence was used in the making of this letter" or maybe simplified further to "HMRC: No Intelligence"

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By Paul Crowley
28th Mar 2024 10:52

I have a similar badly worded letter in reply to an appeal. It went to the client, not me. It was so confused that I genuinely could not decipher the instructions contained therein with confidence. It was a trivial matter, appealing penalties and requesting closure of of a CIS scheme that the client had opened.
It stated that new HMRC practice is not to reply to agents when the agent submit an appeal, but to reply only to clients directly.
HMRC should not let morons write letters.

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By Mr J Andrews
28th Mar 2024 11:58

Yet again we hear of nameless HMRC spokespersons contacting A.W. with pathetic explanations.
Who are these mysterious officials ? No doubt we'll continue to see these all too regular HMRC sub standard communications - and service generally - with yet another unamed Revenue official pointing out to A.W. that this is not how they usually operate.
And with less doubt, the same unamed HMRC spokesperson will then turn to his mates advising that he or she has just fobbed off A.W. yet again with a load of tosh.
I would suggest the only thing artificially intelligent in these scenarios are the HMRC spokespersons.

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Replying to Mr J Andrews:
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By HL86
03rd Apr 2024 07:46

At least the AI can turn to its AI mates and laugh about it all

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By flightdeck
28th Mar 2024 13:16

For God's sake. They no longer even try.

That letter is clearly a bit of half-baked automation.

If they cannot simplify tax itself how do they think a bit of slapped-on AI simplifies it? It is not even 'lipstick on a pig' it actually MAKES IT WORSE.

And our taxes are paying for this shower of rubbishness.

When is Jim Harra getting the heave-ho?

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By 123nugget
28th Mar 2024 14:20

This letter is awful. People really shouldn't need to be trained by HMRC to write letters (that was a teacher's job in my time!) and anyone who takes some pride in their work should, as a minimum, proof read and sense check it. But then, maybe that is the nub of it. When I used to work for HMRC staff took a pride in their work and that's because they owned it - when you worked a case end to end you could sense when something wasn't right, or spot where you may have made an error before you pushed it out the door. I do genuinely feel sorry for many of the HMRC staff who have seen the scope and quality of their roles diminished over the years. It's little wonder people lose interest. But I guess that's progress. Only it isn't.

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Replying to 123nugget:
By K81
28th Mar 2024 14:41

an allocation is a wonderful thing - the same person dealing with all queries to do with your client - why was this ever allowed to change?
my old DI is probably tearing his hair out at the new HMRC.

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Replying to K81:
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By taxinfo
28th Mar 2024 16:02

Same here. My allocation= my responsibility.

My old DI passed away many years ago. He wouldn't have liked this current sorry state of affairs.

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Replying to taxinfo:
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By richard thomas
28th Mar 2024 16:37

My old DIs will have all passed away, and this moribund former DI can recall 1975 when, as a graduate trainee Inspector (Grade III), I did my "management year" in charge of the Schedule D section (Pimlico District - no passports required), that my first task each day was to review the outgoing post of the TOs and TOsHG (now Officers and Assistant Officers), very rarely for grammaticality or typos, but for technical correctness, and very rarely having to return any letters, all of which of course were personally signed or initialled with names also in typescript.

I can just hear the indignation with which an old school TO (his special responsibility was the Profits Tax arrears) would have had for the letter exhibited by the OP.

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Replying to richard thomas:
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By FactChecker
28th Mar 2024 18:02

One of my sadder thoughts today is that not many readers will pick up on your 'no passports required' reference - but their loss.
Of course by 1975 the slow incursion of gentrification had spread from the outpost of Dolphin Square, so despite the monolithic 60s-built Council housing that was trying to hold on to the local heritage of poverty, Stanley Holloway wouldn't have felt at home visiting you at work!
But, like Vauxhall, at the time it was a wonderful way of living cheaply within walking distance of the West End.

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Replying to FactChecker:
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By Paul Crowley
28th Mar 2024 19:18

I was there, throwing bread rolls and baguettes over the barbed wire on no mans land to the poor tax inspectors trapped by events.

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Replying to FactChecker:
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By More unearned luck
28th Mar 2024 20:05
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Replying to FactChecker:
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By richard thomas
28th Mar 2024 20:24

The district was an odd mixture. It covered the southern end of Belgravia including Sloane Square and environs (in fact Peter Jones and Harvey Nicks were the biggest employers) as well as the Churchill Estate, where all the subbies lived and Dolphin Square. Woe betide any subbie who came before the Chelsea Commissioners (Earl Cadogan chairman).

The office though was in Victoria Street opposite the station, in a building that was once a florists. It had a glass roof, so the Schedule E section on the top floor suffered a bit in summer 1976.

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Replying to richard thomas:
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By 123nugget
29th Mar 2024 21:37

Yes, back in the day as a TOHG my name went on all the clerical letters from the office. They were all written by the TO's and some poor grammar had to be corrected - but I always smiled when they used to answer their phone to someone asking to speak to me, with the response 'Oh, he only signs the letters'

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By Stratfan
28th Mar 2024 15:43

Not what I've been hearing.

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By More unearned luck
28th Mar 2024 19:55

"However, he spotted that the subject matter was relevant to several ongoing issues the firm had running with HMRC, marking it out as genuine correspondence."

That dodgy reasoning reminds me of a tale told on the BBC's Moneybox programme. An accountant was to be given online access to a client company's bank account. On the first day she was having difficulty logging in and had put in a call to the bank for help and was expecting a call back. Coincidently a scammer rang pretending to be from the same bank. The accountant put 2 & 2 together and made 5 with the upshot that she was fooled into giving the scammer sufficient details to allow the scammer to steal £6m from the client's bank account.

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Replying to More unearned luck:
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By FactChecker
28th Mar 2024 20:25

Ouch!
I've always been a firm believer in learning from one's mistakes - but some will be harder to forget than others.

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Replying to More unearned luck:
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By Paul Crowley
29th Mar 2024 00:34

That really was a bit unlucky

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By HL86
03rd Apr 2024 07:38

You are lucky you had a response!

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By AlgernonB
03rd Apr 2024 15:22

Every so often, I receive a letter from HMRC lacking date, reference and name and so have to rely on the subject matter and my memory as to who I have been writing about to divine who the letter is referring to. The time it takes the HMRC robot...sorry caseworker to reply makes this just that little bit harder. Carry on Charlie.

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By AlgernonB
03rd Apr 2024 15:22

Every so often, I receive a letter from HMRC lacking date, reference and name and so have to rely on the subject matter and my memory as to who I have been writing about to divine who the letter is referring to. The time it takes the HMRC robot...sorry caseworker to reply makes this just that little bit harder. Carry on Charlie.

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