Tuesday, February 14, 2006



David Varney, the new chairman of HMRC, has said that the focus of the new organisation is on customer service. I have recently had a couple of occasions to look for things on the HMRC website and have been left with the impression that his perception of that phrase is somewhat different to mine!

A friend of a friend thought that he had received a large tax demand which he could not understand and spoke to my friend who spoke to me. The friend of a friend is semi literate. I was readily able to resolve the problem because when I saw the communication from the Revenue it was not addressed to him but to somebody else.

However having looked at his papers, it was apparent that he is entitled to a significant tax refund. He has been unemployed for most of the last years but has worked occasionally both under PAYE and on building sites under the Subcontractor’s Scheme.

I accordingly suggested to my friend that she should write to HMRC and claim a tax refund for her friend. She asked me to whom she should write and I naively thought that I would find this on the HMRC site.

The individual concerned lives in Kent. On the “contact us” section of the website there is a facility called “contact by post”. This tells me that if I key in a tax office reference it will tell me where the office is. I picked a reference from one of the P45’s, 921. The tool told me “no match found”. Was I on to a scandal? Had some unscrupulous employer invented a tax office? I looked at the form more closely. The “employer” was the local job centre. I somehow don’t think that the DWP invents tax offices to try and defraud HMRC. It seems to me more likely that the HMRC contact tool does not work. I then tried “contact your tax office by phone”. No luck. It only gives numbers of call centres. In desperation I tried “face to face”. This gave me the address of Woolwich Enquiry Centre and helpfully told me that it was almost five miles from the individual’s home. However it did not give me a phone number and I knew that the individual’s tax file would not be there.

Fortunately my friend who works freelance does some work for an accountant in South London and she said that she does a lot of letters to the South East London area and perhaps she should contact them. I hope it works.

I pity those who do not have such local knowledge and have to rely on the HMRC website. Of course the individual could have given up a half days work to go in person to the Woolwich Enquiry Centre, but as he does not understand the bits of paper that he has I somehow doubt it would have been a very productive meeting.

This morning I decided to look up the Revenue’s Prosecution press releases. Because I have looked at these in the past I knew there was a website. Could I find it on the HMRC website? No. I tried everything I could think of. I did a search for “prosecution press releases”. This gave me lots of hits which included the word “prosecution”. I did a search for “press releases”. This gave me another long list none of which were terribly helpful and suggested that I should try “press notices” which gave me another long list and suggested that I should try “press releases”.

I actually know that the HMRC press releases are on the Government News Network site not the Revenue site. However I could not find a link to them on the Revenue’s site. I went to “YouGov”. Again I could find no link to press releases. Eventually I found HMRC Prosecution press releases but there’s nothing on it for several months. I then realised that I should have looked for “HMRC Prosecution Office press releases”, where I found what I wanted.

I do not claim to be computer literate but at least I knew the website I was looking for existed so I persevered until I found it. I suspect most people would have given up when they could not find it on the HMRC website.

I would like to know how David Varney defines customer service!

Robert W Maas


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