Press release: Tax advisers tell Government: “Practise what you preach on small print”

The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) has urged the Government to apply the same principles of simplicity, clarity and brevity to the tax code as it is urging businesses to apply to their terms and conditions online.

The CIOT has spoken out as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is seeking views from the public on how terms and conditions can be made simpler and more user-friendly for consumers and on proposals to introduce fines for unfair terms1.

John Cullinane, CIOT Tax Policy Director, said:

“Millions of consumers will applaud the Government's condemnation of terms and conditions running into tens of thousands of words that we are all encouraged to sign off electronically without any realistic prospect of reading and understanding.

“Millions of taxpayers, who will soon be facing obligations to keep digitalised ta‎x accounts online, will be looking to the Government to practise what it preaches and radically simplify the thousands of pages of tax legislation which make up the effective terms and conditions of these online accounts.

“Compliance with the law cannot be brought into the online future when the law itself is unreformed and beyond any single person's ability to comprehend.”

To encourage people to look at terms and conditions online, BIS suggests that key terms could be required to be succinct so that, for example, they fit onto two smartphone sized screens on a mobile internet site. There may be other practical measures BIS may adopt such as terms and conditions automatically opening before customers could move onto the confirmation of purchase screen or requiring the use of tagging so that certain key themes - data privacy, additional charges and renewal - could be found at the click of a button.

Another BIS suggestions is that it should be made easier for consumers to access any terms and conditions that they are being asked to accept without adding to the complexity of completing a purchase. And BIS thinks that firms should be consistent in their use of tick boxes and a tick should always mean, ‘yes I want this option to apply to me’.

Notes for editors

  1. The BIS open consultation on ‘Improving terms and conditions’ closes on 25 April 2016. It can be viewed here.
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