This is number three in a series of articles on this blog from CIOT members exploring different aspects of the Tax Agent Strategy (TAS) consultation. The articles are published in a personal capacity, are intended to stimulate debate and do not represent agreed CIOT policy. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to post an article. Comments in response are very welcome. All articles are written by CIOT members but comments may come from anyone.
In an article on the CCH website Trevor Johnson has likened the Revenue’s ‘self serve’ plans for tax agents to a ‘Tesco’ tax system, with an automated checkout and the whole process able to be completed without the involvement of any member of the store’s staff.
Being positive and using Trevor’s analogy, I hope it will be more like Waitrose than Tesco (and not just being snobby – they have a good self-serve model) –
• you self-serve (by scanning your food as you go round and pack it just as you like)
• though the actual process takes a bit longer (i.e. scanning each item as you put it in your trolley – especially if your other half is with you and hogs the scanner)
• but overall you save significant time, hassle and effort (no going through check-outs and repacking goods – unlike some self-serve shops)
• and much of the their saving has clearly been invested in:
o good systems (reliable hand scanning system),
o good quality and value product (never knowingly undersold) and
o redeployed and well trained staff who can provide a good service if you need it.
If there is a problem (e.g. something won’t scan because it is on that week’s ‘list to check’) helpful staff will get you back on track when you pay. Otherwise you just pay as you leave and walk out of the shop without having to even speak to a member of staff. In fact you feel so unusually trusted you almost feel like you need to wave your receipt around as you leave.
The enrolled (you have to have a John Lewis card to self-serve) are occasionally checked up on (i.e. sent to a checkout to have all your goods rechecked) and that is a pain – especially if you are in a hurry – but it’s the occasional price of an otherwise speedy service. If you make the odd genuine mistake they just adjust your bill with little comment.
You cannot really totally abuse the system if enrolled (e.g. if you walk out without paying) as they know who you are and have your John Lewis credit card details so can get you anyway.
They know what is normal for you – and even ask if they have done anything wrong if your habits change significantly - scary!
And if you abuse the system (by not scanning everything) and they catch you they’ll refuse you access to the system – but I’ve never heard of it happening to anyone who just made the odd genuine mistake. As for disenrolment – well it is Waitrose’ final decision, but then you can always shop at M&S or Tesco – with HMRC there is no alternative – which is why everyone is twitchy and wants some independent oversight here.
And the ‘unrepresented’ can still shop there and go through the tills – where the queues are much shorter than in most shops.
If we agree to this then I think we have to push for the Waitrose model. The secret is they trust their customers, who in turn are honest back – like the market trader who realised he spent too much time handing out change so just put a pot of change on his counter and told customers to help themselves when they overpaid. His queues were cut, his customers increased, they were happier and his turnover and profits rocketed!
Friday 10 June 2011