The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) has welcomed today’s Treasury Committee report into the Administration and Effectiveness of HMRC, which endorses a number of the Group’s concerns around access to the tax system for unrepresented taxpayers1.
Robin Williamson, LITRG’s Technical Director, was one of those called as a witness by the Committee during its deliberations. Responding to its publication he commented:
“This detailed report by the Treasury Committee paints a disturbing picture of HMRC’s performance, with its delivery of services to the general public falling to unacceptable levels in many areas.
“If HMRC want to improve taxpayer compliance and reduce error levels they need to make it easier for people to contact them and get advice that is prompt, accurate and understandable.
“HMRC justify the closure of enquiry centres by pointing to a decline in footfall. We, however, pointed out in oral evidence to the Committee that in the last three years, while visits to HMRC local offices have fallen, requests for help from TaxHelp for Older People have nearly doubled. The demand has not decreased – it has simply gone elsewhere because of poor service from HMRC.
“The Committee recommends HMRC should work jointly with tax charities. This could be the key to delivering a better quality customer service to the unrepresented taxpayer and tax credit claimant, and LITRG greatly welcomes HMRC’s overtures to the voluntary sector in recent months. What is also needed is an extension and enhancement of the grant-in-aid programme that HMRC have already begun to put into effect. This is an example of the big society at its best, but with more core funding much more could be done at a relatively low cost.”
LITRG has welcomed the Committee’s statement that HMRC should ensure it has alternatives in place for those who cannot access information or submit tax returns online. Robin Williamson said:
“HMRC’s strategy of compelling all businesses to use online means of communication when dealing with the Department ignores the reality of many people not being able to use computers or the internet because of disability, old age, cost or a lack of reliable broadband access.2
“We greatly welcome the Committee’s recommendation that HMRC should have robust, well-advertised alternatives in place for those who cannot submit online, and publish a statement of its commitment to continue to provide a robust free service for basic tax return filing. We understand HMRC will publish a digital assistance strategy in the autumn, which we hope and trust will include just such a commitment, and we look forward to participating in the preceding consultation .”
LITRG shares the Committee’s concern at the extent of the reductions in resources which HMRC has borne for a number of years. It believes that some flexibility should be allowed now to enable the Department to improve its current performance before further reductions are imposed.
John Andrews, Chairman of LITRG and of HMRC’s Charter Advisory Committee, concluded:
"The Treasury Committee quite properly focused largely on recent past performance. What is absolutely crucial is HMRC performance in the next two years. The importance of ‘real time information’ being an immediate and complete success in 2013 cannot be over-stated. There have undoubtedly been some signs of improvement coming out of the PAYE system in the last few months, but the pace of improvement must be accelerated.
“The voice of the HMRC customer must be heard and acted upon and the words of the HMRC Charter must be made to mean something in all parts of HMRC."3
Notes to editors
- ‘Unrepresented taxpayers’ refers to the majority of taxpayers who are not able to employ a professional tax agent to represent them and must navigate the tax system reliant on the advice of HMRC and tax charities, such as LITRG.
- A report commissioned by HMRC in 2008 itself suggested that 9% of businesses do not have access to a computer, let alone broadband internet. This is quoted by the Committee in paragraph 133 of their report.
- Legislated for in the Finance Act 2009 and launched in November of that year, the HMRC Charter sets out how taxpayers can expect to be treated by HMRC, including being treated even-handedly and with respect, receiving clear explanations of rules and having mistakes put right quickly, as well as many of their rights, including the ability to appeal against a tax assessment. It can be read at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/charter/index.htm
- ‘Administration and effectiveness of HM Revenue and Customs’, the House of Commons Treasury Committee’s Sixteenth Report of Session 2010-12, is published today, Saturday 30 July 2011. It will be available on the Committee’s website at:
- LITRG’s evidence to the Treasury Committee can be found at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmtreasy/writev/hmrc/14.htm
- The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) is an initiative of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) to give a voice to the unrepresented. Since 1998 LITRG has been working to improve the policy and processes of the tax, tax credits and associated welfare systems for the benefit of those on low incomes.
30 July 2011