I am surprised that absolutely no accountants or tax professionals noticed the story that I broke yesterday. As ever, I have had to ring up the Guardian and tell them to run a story on it. So it was that the Guardian reported this morning that:
HM Revenue and Customs is shutting all of its 281 inquiry centres, which provide face-to-face help on tax, and replacing them with a mobile service which will see advisers making “home visits” and even meeting people in coffee shops.
The decision will save HMRC £13m a year but has prompted a warning that “some very vulnerable people” would lose out. The move affects 1,300 staff around the country, though the Revenue said it would do everything possible to redeploy employees.
This is shocking for a number of reasons.
The first is that, as is widely known, UK tax law is complex. There are hardly any other tax experts such as myself who can recite the intention and effect of any tax law you care to name at the drop of a hat. HMRC staff are so dull-witted that it will normally take eight of them two hours to answer a query that I can sort out completely in three minutes.
So they will have to have a minibus with all these different tax specialists (they’re not tax experts like myself) going round peoples houses in order to be able to sort out their tax affairs.
Second, closing these centres means that HMRC will be seen to be retreating from our communities. That is dangerous: tax is a key part in the relationship between citizen and The State. It must be seen to be operated by and in the communities in which they live. It is imperative that people are reminded of the supremacy of The State at every opportunity.
I remember when we used to have tax inspectors walking their beat on the streets. But Margaret Thatcher privatised and deregulated them, thus sowing the seeds of the current financial crisis which the Labour government desperately tried to avert from the moment it came into power.
Third, it is wholly inappropriate to meet in coffee shops because of their association with tax avoidance. Instead, taxpayer meetings should be conducted in a traditional wooden-beamed pub owned by a UK resident and domiciled couple who source their ales and wines locally.
Fourth, it is very often appropriate to meet in people’s houses. It is intimidating enough for people to meet HMRC because they are such a common sight in our communities (see my second point). So why must the encounter be at perhaps the most intimidating place possible, your very own home?
If HMRC are in your home it is very hard to ask for time to answer questions or to find information because you probably just want to get out of your home and leave the well-respected pillar of the community that is the inspector of taxes to root through the place of terror that is your home.
So when HMRC are in a person’s home and ask questions the person will probably panic and say the first thing that comes into their head, which is invariably a lie, before running for the front door screaming.
Fifth, what are the people who will be sacked by HMRC do? They will probably start taking taxation matters into their own hands and dole out tax advice on a vigilante basis.
Sixth, HMRC provide customer relationship managers for big business to help them tailor the tax code for avoidance purposes by inserting loopholes at their every bidding. But little old ladies must be told to go to their homes waiting in terror for a respected agent of The State and community stalwart to turn up and intimidate them at the last place on Earth where they will have information to hand.
Seven, terror-stricken people will invariably offer the HMRC official a cup of tea and a biscuit, which would be a crime under the Bribery Act and is punishable with extraordinary rendition to Guantanamo Bay.
Eight, many people will have to flee their home before HMRC arrive and so it will have been a wasted journey anyway.
This is yet another sign of the utterly failed management logic of HMRC that nothing save for the Justice for Taxes Network can change.