LITRG article published in the December 2001 issue of Tax Adviser. The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) was established by the Chartered Institute of Taxation:
'...to target for help and information those least able in the community to afford tax advice and make a real difference to the understanding of taxaxtion, and to work to make the tax system more friendly to their needs.'
It is also supported by funding from the Nuffield Foundation.
The Inland Revenue should make it easier for people on low incomes to complain about poor service received from the taxman.
The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, which campaigns for a simpler tax system for people on low incomes, has seen many examples where the Inland Revenue response to complaints of poor service has been woeful.
LITRG Chairman, John Andrews comments:
“The Inland Revenue targets for getting things right first time are low so there are bound to be mistakes. In these circumstances you would expect the complaints and compensation processes to be clear and easy to use. For someone who cannot afford to pay for a tax adviser this is far from the case.”
The Inland Revenue have just issued a new version of their leaflet COP 1, explaining what they do when they make mistakes and advising taxpayers how to complain (COP1 Putting things right when we make mistakes).
The leaflet describes a three-stage complaints procedure. At stage one you should contact “the person you have been dealing with” which, as anyone with a pension or employment dealt with under the PAYE system will know, is a challenge in itself. If you want to go higher up the chain, you are effectively asked to contact for guidance the person you want to complain about.
At stage two if you are still unhappy you are invited to contact one of 19 Directors who will review your complaint, after you have found out from the office you are complaining about which Director you should write to.
If you are still not happy you have two further levels of appeal, to the Adjudicator or the Ombudsman.
The LITRG would like to see a less intimidating process where the contact points are clearer and the barriers to complaining are reduced. We therefore recommend that:
- The procedures should be simplified by having at stage one an identified Customer Service Manager responsible for complaints in each office;
- At stage two, those who wish to take their complaint further should contact a single Complaints Helpline;
- Clear service standards should be set out so that customers know what to expect;
- Complaints should be accepted if made by e-mail;
- The circumstances in which the Revenue will forgo tax when they have made mistakes should be explicitly stated;
- The plethora of leaflets covering Revenue standards, procedures for complaining and general policies should be rationalised, simplified and made consistent;
- The poor services provided for those with disabilities should be improved.
In the meantime the LITRG advises taxpayers who want to complain to write to their tax office addressing their letter to the Officer in Charge, the Area Director or The Recovery Manager (previous correspondence should tell them which). They should write COMPLAINT prominently at the top of their letter and give their reference or National Insurance number.
The letter should explain clearly what has gone wrong and what the taxpayer would like done to put it right. This might include:
- an apology;
- the tax office sorting things out;
- writing off the tax bill;
- compensation for costs incurred;
- compensation for worry or distress.
The Inland Revenue state that they want to learn from their mistakes but not enough people have the understanding or confidence to express their frustrations at poor service in an effective way. An overhaul of procedures and communications would go some way to redressing the balance.
A number of different IR leaflets deal with complaints and customer service, such as COP 1, IR120, CA47, IR167, CSS1 and others. They give conflicting information and indeed CSS1, which was revised only in September, outlines a different complaints procedure from COP1. Leaflets can be found on the Revenue website: :[www.hmrc.gov.uk].
020 7235 9381
December 2001 by