The UK tax system, economic model and fiscal strategy in a word:

USELESSA small personal issue that is nevetheless yet again indicative of the way Britain operates….that is, paying by quantity not quality, and spoiling the ship for a ha’porth of tar.

I’ve just received (yesterday, 21st August) a letter from the UK tax authorities saying I haven’t filled in my tax return and so here’s a bill for £100. It’s dated 30th July…so it took 22days to travel a distance of 750 miles. It says the problem is urgent and the bill must be paid. You see, HMRC without exception sends all letter mail Second Class.

The letter is the third in the series. After the first one, I rang the call centre and said “I haven’t filled in your tax return because I left England in March 2012.” Well they said, fill it in anyway and then we’ll assess what you owe us. I don’t owe you anything, I countered. Fill it in and we’ll see, she repeated.

So I dug it out and filled it in and sent it off. I enclosed a covering letter confirming letters already sent to them showing I’d left the UK to become a French resident in March 2012. Six weeks later I got another demand for £100. I’m still waiting for a response to the tax return plus covering letter.

Over the next month I tried on five occasions to get through to the call centre. Each time, I waited 20 minutes after pressing six options, and then hung up. Investing 1hr 40mins of my valuable time seemed to me a reasonable attempt to clear things up.

Now I get the same letter, same bill, no reference at all to previous correspondence. It said ‘ring this number now’. So I rang it. Nobody there. (Zero information about opening hours, naturally)

It is over three years since I left the UK after selling my property there. The NHS, the DVLC, the social services, the Land Registry, the local authority and a dozen other organisations who rain over us seemed to catch on fairly quickly. But not the HMRC. The HMRC which turns a blind eye to billionaire tax evaders and does grubby deals with multinational Head Office flippers has devoted three lots of paper and postage over three years to chasing me for a hundred knicker I don’t owe them.

A guest staying here some time back is a forensic financial fraud investigator. He has worked with the UK tax authorities on several occasions. He is vituperative about the abysmal quality of HMRC employees from top to bottom.

My experience suggests he’s right, but these are the principal points I’m trying to make:

  1. Like all important government functions designed to communicate information to the citizens who pay their salaries, the HMRC is woefully underfunded in terms of staff numbers and systems, and consists almost entirely of low-quality demotivated staff led by arse-watching donkeys.
  2. When my little contretemps comes to a head (as, just like Vesuvius, one day it must) the realities of the cockup won’t matter a jot: I will have to pay, because no citizens’ watch exists to argue the case in Court. That’s purely for the rich folks who hire expensive lawyers and then take flight to Turkish Cyprus.
  3. Sending letters only Second Class in the age of the internet is a classic bureaucrat’s view of how “to save money”. It’s in the same league as Osborne’s ludicrous ‘cuts’ and IDS’s mean-minded chiselling at our benefits: it’s like urinating in the Gobi desert in an attempt to create a new ocean.
  4. One can deal with these low life on the website, but believe it or not, you have to join the HMRC’s registered users club in order to do it. And this bit you will believe: they don’t impart that information to you until you’re almost halfway through filling in the online tax return.

This isn’t grumpy old man: indeed, one of my main objections to that truly offensive phrase is that it is the first recourse of all those these days who don’t care about the plight of others, or know perfectly well you have a case, but want to shut you up. What I’m doing here is using micro experience (that can easily be quantified on a mass scale) to once again whip off the Seventh Veil to which neoliberal gangsters and their useful idiots cling desperately as push finally comes to shove. My conclusions are:

  • Employers pay peanuts and get disaffected monkeys who reduce efficiency and have no motivation whatsoever to improve productivity. This obviously causal result, astonishingly, baffles neolibs around the world.
  • Ordinary citizens are being asked to give more to the State, take less from the State, and have no appeal against the State, because a vicious mélange of incompetent spending, banking system liabilities and greedy bonus-splurging offshore dwellers have taken all the munneeee unto themselves.

All those outcomes are a direct result of following the insupportable, hare-brained ideas of Milton Friedman, and the equally non-empirical global assertions of Theodore Levitt. Feeding the citizen patient these quack cures has done nothing beyond deliver them divisive societies and a dangerously divided world. These people are the NVEs on our planet, not Jeremy Corbyn.

And as for the HMRC, they can go forth and multiply for their hundred quid: I’m sick of corporatist values buggering me about. It has to start somewhere, and this is as good a place as any.

Yesterday at The Slog: David Cameron is p**sing against the Wind of German history, and he knows it

46 thoughts on “The UK tax system, economic model and fiscal strategy in a word:

  1. I think it’s a bit the luck of the draw. HMRC dealt with my departure to France reasonably efficiently, and once they had acknowledged that I had in fact gone, I didn’t get any more forms to fill.

    The last time I phone the government (this time it was pensions) I got a guy on the phone who was undoubtedly intelligent, and sounded like he was in his 50s or 60s. He answered all my questions and also those that I hadn’t thought to ask but should have.

    These counterxamples don’t imply that I disagree with your central these about general government incompetence.

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  2. They send their bloody letters to me, living here in Catalunya for the past 16 years via MALTA, not Royal Mail, and they arrive about 6 weeks after the posting date! Have given up complaining as I never receive any acknowledgement, spent countless hours and expense trying to communicate by phone, whilst they are screwing me for what little pension money I receive!
    God, I hate everything about Britain, and was lucky to escape and retain my sanity!

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  3. I would concur, hassling large bodies on twitter usually produces action as they do not like their inadequacies being highlighted in public, sarcasm seems to hasten their actions even more.

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  4. Govt/Local Authority etc employment is a refuge for the lazy & incompetent.

    I spent my 20s (I’m 62 now) running, with my Dad & 3 of my brothers, our family building business, employing about 19 people.
    We had a maintenance contract on about 200 schools, SE & SW London.

    I well remember one chap in nominal charge of the office of GLC/ILEA surveyors issuing our work orders & supervising.
    He had been so incompetent in his previous position, & the staff there so anxious to be rid of him, while union strength was such that the solution found was to PROMOTE him to head this dept, where his staff carried him.

    It’s experiences like this which make me doubt if anything should be publicly owned & run.
    I’ve even pondered on whether Govt/Local Authorities should employ only competing (honestly) teams of inspectors, to supervise work devolved to the most local level possible.

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  5. On the rare occasions I have to deal with HMRC I do so via recorded delivery/registered post only. I refuse to use their appalling telephone service, which is an insult to us all. They really do like to rub our noses in it …

    Far be it for me to offer any advice to you, JW, but if I were in your position I would send a letter to them (RD) saying, “Refer to previous correspondence. See you in court”. This has worked for me in the past with other government departments as it tends to concentrate their minds a bit, once they realise that the standard casual threats haven’t worked and they are going to have to stop being lazy and nasty and actually bend their tiny minds to the case in hand.

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  6. This kind of impasse is the result of increasingly mechanistic approaches to dealing with the public which extend far beyond HMRC and are now being employed in any situation where money is involved, both by government and big business. An objective is set out, i.e. money gathering, and a process designed to gather as much of it as possible at minimal cost or effort and regardless of an individual’s eligibility to pay. One of the secrets of this process is to remove as much as possible any opportunity for human interaction or effective discussion which might lead, however justifiably, to an interruption of the revenue stream. The call centre is just one of the bastard children of this brutalist mind set where it is essentially impossible to achieve a dialogue because your problem is not specifically covered by the process and the operator is specifically excluded from using his or her initiative to find a solution. Thus, fiat money is now being amassed by fiat and the Orwellian putative imposition of a fait accompli in the name of expediency. The resulting experience is, naturally enough, deeply alienating and non cooperation the entirely legitimate response.

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  7. Agree entirely with Hieronimusb, local tax offices used to be filled with angry people trying to sort out such stupidity, they got rid of those and replaced them with phone lines. Those phone lines are useless unless you like going around in loops never to get anything sorted, so we are left with twitter…… Thanks John for keeping at it, hopefully the people will wake up soon.

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  8. +1000 Hieronimusb, It’s revenue collection, a machine designed to frustrate, intimidate and obfuscate until people just give up and pay. As you say, it is now part of most government and justice systems.

    You are also correct in that the whole mechanism revolves around the cost of collection vs amount collected nexus, utterly cynical and as JW says just another product of the dystopian neoliberal consensus.

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  9. Absolutely on the button there, H.

    Indeed, it’s surprising that the Great British Pubic haven’t already cottoned on to this …

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  10. John dear, you should have taken up residence in a remote cave somewhere rather than France; that is the only way of avoiding the trappings of civilisation.

    HMRC are a seriously bad organisation but name me one organisation (governmental or commercial) who are not worthy of a violent diatribe?

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  11. don’t worry – i’ve been at the same end of the 100quid fines for the last 10years racking up a total of 3grand plus- this compound interest is a wonderful thing.
    In the end a nice lady from Durham arranged to post me 6 years worth of tax forms – and I forget how many times I wrote nil. All cancelled with a confirmation. This is why I love the government – they get things done without any fuss!

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  12. One of my big bosses.who in a non dom ,seemingly,has had a team of HMRCs big wigs from the London office on his boat in the Med in June.Since then,their families have spent two weeks on board off the coast of Mallorca,dining and shopping daily in Pallm,Formentor and Monaco.Of course his tax bill will be “pursued”with the utmost vigour.Certainly his external cleaning teams will be.

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  13. NHS, BBC, HSBC, HBOS, HMRC, GCHQ. No matter how hard I try, I cannot if the word talent when I rearrange all these letters.

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  14. It’s the same old same old, a bloody bean counter pokes its nose into a reasonable system and thinks ah! We can do this cheaper with not a clue as to how to make it better. Do we want cheaper schools ,cheaper NHS etc . I don’t ,but I remain convinced that services like that can be made hugely better but not when the only tool in the box is make cost cuts and export call centres.

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  15. MRO
    In my line, nothing is a mistake because it all makes for good copy and another hatpin in the corporacratic State.

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  16. As Hieronimusb states, the problem is not confined to public bodies.
    After being in dispute with nPower for over two years and after each time I phone, e-mail or write to prove my case they respond with ‘Ah, we’ll look into that’. Then after a few months they repeat their incorrect demands.
    However, I stuck to my guns and eventually got a letter from them which admitted their inept behavior and said, by way of apology, that they would wipe the slate clean.
    Guess what? A week later and we were back in the loop.
    Though now it’s not just numptyPower to be dealt with, but two debt collection agencies as well.
    The thing that annoys me is that these outfits mark your credit status, and, even though you can post an ‘in dispute’ sticker on your file, others assume you’re a risk.
    It is, I have found, quite literally, a case of, ‘Sorry, the computer says no’.

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  17. John, I had exactly the same problem when I moved to France 11 years ago. Two years after moving over, I started receiving threatening letters and fines for not filling in tax returns, even though I had my accountant send all the paperwork, final payments etc. etc. when I left.

    To cut a long story short, two years later, the Office of the Adjudicator agreed that Her Majesty’s Rogues and Crooks had behaved like total shits and I was completely exonerated, though they couldn’t agree with my request that the rude lying bitch that had been dealing with my case be fired or send to a reeducation camp.

    I received no apology from the HMRC just a balance sheet with all the fines reversed and a paltry a out of compensation.

    In my case what worked was to to make an official complaint to the HMRC and when they found themselves ‘innocent’ (of corse), I took my case to adjudicator.

    Contact me if you want any more details.

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  18. The so called ‘utilities’ are, without doubt, some of the worst offenders: so much for utilitarianism and normative ethics. Credit rating is just another stick to beat us with, shamelessly derived from the politics of fear – unless you are planning to borrow money, it’s healthier to disregard such coercive nonsense. I very much hope that you’ve got the energy to fight the bastards to the bitter end.

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  19. It’s a deliberate ploy by HMRC. They don’t want to bother with indisviduals. They prefer that we hire accountants who will deal with HMRC directly and may take them out for the occassional jolly. The accountants are just their stoolies made to snitch on their clients for which they charge absurd rates. Mine charges me over £400 for a return I could do in 15 minutes in long hand. But do that and you will get interminable letters from HMRC, so you pay an additional tax to the accountants to avoid the HMRC’s letters. Sucks baby!

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  20. Having worked for (the then) HM Inspector of Taxes (now HMRC) AND for local government in the UK, at one time or another, I can testify that their modus operandi is as follows: incompetent (and corrupt) arseholes – or assholes, as they say, here in the USA – promote their cronies, and people with less qualifications and ability than themselves, since they fear anyone with an IQ over 17, whom they see as a threat. This is a progressive downward spiral. Meanwhile, the truly competent ones, who could, and would, do a very good job, are passed over for promotion so many times, in favour of stupid, arse-licking baboons, that they become disillusioned. They then leave, or stay on, but no longer give a shit about the job, and just go through the motions, with perhaps the odd attempt to throw a spanner in the works. Their final strategy is to have as much time off sick, as possible, or allowed by their contract, and then try to get paid off, with enhanced redundancy, to get back at their employer. Whenever there are cutbacks, the bosses have a ‘restructuring’, where they change their title and give themselves a pay rise, whilst getting rid of a few of the plebs, to fund it. And once the little clique of bosses get established, it’s near impossible to get rid of them. Think BBC. As for owing the UK taxes…were you self-employed in the UK, Mr Ward ? If you were in employment, and on PAYE, and left half way through the year, then HMRC almost certainly owe you some money, because of the cumulative nature of the UK tax system. You have permanently ceased working in the UK (actually known as a ‘permanent cessation’ in HMRC parlance) and they will have over-collected tax. I hope, for your sake, that France and the UK have a treaty preventing taxation at both ends, if you still have income arising from the UK. If so, you have to complete forms, EVERY YEAR, saying which country you want to collect tax from you. The f**kers all want their pound of flesh !

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  21. Ex Pat – you have described just about any large organisation in the UK today. It seems almost to be a national characteristic of the British today to behave in the worst possible manner in any given circumstance. In any situation involving a choice it is rarely difficult to divine which is the right path and which is the wrong; why are so many people so stupid, venal or plain bloody spineless? Damifino …

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  22. Send them a bill for £100. As far as you are concerned, it is a reciprocal arrangement. They cock up, they owe you a hundred, you make late submission or cock up, you do.
    Then when they don’t pay tell them you are either taking them to small claims court, or passing the debt to a recovery agency.

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  23. you had a reply in22 days my ex received a reply 3 months later followed by one 4 days later witch was a reply to one sent 7 weeks earlier as for phoning you have to ignore all the stupid questions untill they put you in a non existing que and then hold for another 50 minuetes before any one speaks and then you still do not get any sensible answers

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  24. Beware , people have been extradited for lesser crimes. Removing a sick child from hospital to seek superior treatment elsewhere springs immediately to mind.

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  25. They’ve been chasing me for 6 years now for a debt I don’t owe. I have to go through the same old rigmarole of writing to point it out. Gladly this time, the reply was favourable. I’m still receiving tax credits notifications however, telling me what I used to get, and that, er, I no longer qualify for them: derrr. They could save money on that practice straight away.

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  26. DieOnYourFeet,

    Got you, you followed the correct complaints procedure which then enabled you to take the case to an adjudicator. And the absolutely independent and unbiased adjudicator found in your favour (there is always a first time I guess).

    Regulators, adjudicators, ombudsmen, all are a part of the entire stinking and corrupt system. That you won a SMALL victory is absolutely not a recommendation for others to follow the system. I can give you two horrendous examples of following the system (in my younger naïve days) and not even coming close to satisfaction.

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