Friday, May 27, 2011

BLOG 107


There was an interesting snippet in Accountancy Age the other day.

HMRC are apparently sending out threatening letters to businesses.

The letter says that the outstanding tax debts have been transferred to HMRC’s Destraint Department “to list your goods so that they may be sold at public auction”. The letter does not say how much is owed but advises the business to call a specified telephone number or pay the full outstanding amount immediately.

Apparently in many cases the amount owed is “nil”. So why should HMRC write to honest taxpayers who owe nothing threatening to seize and sell their goods? They never did this when Dawn Primarola was the responsible Minister. Is David Gauke, the responsible Coalition Minister, so anti-small businesses that he has instructed HMRC to put them all out of business?

HMRC told Accountancy Age that the letters are “automatically generated”, are sent out when there “has not been a nil-payment submission” and are being sent out “because HMRC was becoming more efficient in chasing debts”.

“Automatically generated”, of course, means that there is a computer involved. We all know that computers do odd things at times. There’s a saying in the IT world “garbage in; garbage out”, which I think means that if one programs a computer to demand money whenever it does not receive a return, it is going to issue lots of demands to people who have omitted to make a return because nothing is due. HMRC like to call us all “customers”, as if we have a choice of whether or not to deal with them. If I was a customer of a business that threatened to distrain on my goods when I owed them nothing, I would go ballistic. But I suppose customer service does not really matter to HMRC because the law forces us to put up with whatever idiocies they choose to throw at us.

I don’t really know what a “nil-payment submission” is. I think it is to do with PAYE. HMRC expect to receive a payment from every employer every month. They ask employers to let them know if no payment is due for a month. However, as far as I am aware, there is no statutory requirement to do this. It is wholly voluntary. Accordingly the threat to seize and sell a person’s goods is probably HMRC’s way of trying to persuade everyone to volunteer! “If you don’t voluntarily do as HMRC tell you, we will make your life hell until you do. The Coalition do not believe in the concept of civil servants. You will do as you are told. You must order your life according to the dictates of HMRC, not the law”.

I cannot even start to speculate how HMRC believe that wasting taxpayers’ money to send out letters threatening distraint for non-existent debts is evidence of their “becoming more efficient”!



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