Wednesday, November 04, 2009



I received an e-mail the other day from a client who is CEO of a major company but also is the sole director of a tiny private company. The tiny company received a phone call from HMRC last week asking to speak to a director. The phone was answered by the Company Secretary, who is in fact the officer of a company who is primarily responsible for the proper administration of the company. The HMRC Officer refused to tell the Company Secretary what HMRC’s concerns were. They insisted on the Company Secretary giving them the phone number of a director, which she duly did.

HMRC then phoned the director and said that the company had not paid its PAYE for month 6. The director said that he did not deal with the PAYE but would look into it.

When he told me what had happened I said that I thought that HMRC’s refusal to talk to the Company Secretary was outrageous.

HMRC called the director again later in the week. I reproduce below part of the first paragraph of his e-mail to me.

We received another call from HRMC at 08 55 this morning. I told the lady that Robert had said that it was inappropriate for them to be calling and she replied that Robert didn't work for HRMC so he had nothing to say about it. … As it happened I was rushing about doing other things and she told me, “ I was trying to help you but if you are going to take that attitude I will pass this onto local people and we will just keep your money and assume that you haven't paid us”. I told her that I really could not deal with this at this time. She quickly said something along the lines of "" or something of that sort. I thenasked her what her name was but it seems that I was speaking to a dead receiver as she had quickly hung up.

The Company Secretary phoned HMRC later in the day. She said that the director had informed her of the problem. She was puzzled as she always pays over the PAYE at the end of each month when she pays the salaries. She had checked the company’s bank statements and the payment had left the account via BACS. The Officer she spoke to checked on the computer and told her that she had found the money. The problem was that the company had paid it “too early”. Accordingly HMRC had allocated it to month 5 (despite the fact that they already had a payment for month 5).

HMRC talk a lot about “customer service” and wanting to help taxpayers to get things right. Wouldn’t it be a good idea if instead of this simply being a mantra chanted periodically by Dave Hartnett he did something to tell his staff about his desired approach?

I appreciate that HMRC is a big organisation. I appreciate that it takes time to change attitudes. But I thought that customer service (or simply “service” as it used to be called when I started in tax 40 odd years ago) had always been important to HMRC. Accordingly what seems to me to have actually happened on the ground is that the concept of service has been jettisoned in favour of bullying taxpayers. Certainly bullying can get results but, as my client has said to me, “that attitude is, of course, one that is not likely to get particular co-operation out of me”.

The above is not an isolated incident. I am aware of other instances where HMRC seem to me to have adopted wholly unreasonable attitudes when they thought that money was due to them.

Some years ago the US Congress concluded that abuses of power by the US tax authority, the IRS, had reached such a level that something had to be done to rein them in. I think that it may be time for Parliament to do something similar in this country!