Tax doesn’t have to be taxing – they choose to make it so

I’ve just spent 20 minutes on hold to the self-assessment section of HMRC, waiting to tell them that my late father’s local tax office calculated the tax on his estate incorrectly.  I am unable to speak to the person who made the calculation or indeed anyone at the office in question since although the accompanying letter is written as though from an individual – “I enclose my tax calculation…”, “My calculation shows…”, etc. – there is no name and no signature, and the telephone number is that of a call centre with whom I have had similarly fruitless dealings in the past.

Some years ago, the tax officer dealing with your tax would write to you personally and give you their own contact details so that you could ring up and clear up any problems immediately.  Should the matter be complicated and take more than one conversation, you would always be speaking to the same person, who would know the relevant details and be able to speak to you immediately about the case since they weren’t coming to it cold.

Unfortunately now you speak to an unknown somebody in an unknown location who identifies themselves by their first name only.  You have no chance of finding out who this person was, so if for instance they turn out to be unhelpful and fail to write down the outcome of the conversation in your notes you can find yourself in exactly the same position several months later, when HMRC send you a demand for an incorrectly calculated payment you thought had been corrected months ago, but now including interest and penalties for late payment.  There you are, talking to “Peter” or “Jane”, having to go through the whole sorry saga once again, except that now the automated billing system has kicked in you will continue to receive increasingly hysterical (but automated) letters and you will be told that these cannot be stopped, even if “Jane” acknowledges that you don’t in fact need to pay anything until the situation has been resolved.

I know this change has been made with the aim of increasing efficiency, but it seems to me that relatively small efficiency savings at HMRC are massively outweighed by the hideous extra expense in terms of lost time and wasted effort of all those of us sitting on hold at the other end of the line, then repeating themselves yet again as they bring “Peter” up to speed with the saga to date.

You can tell that the people who made this change don’t do their own taxes, can’t you?

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