Friday, 15 January 2010

Tax Is Easy - Here's The Proof

If you have a complex service or useless product, one of the quickest ways to find out just how wrong you have got it is by the number of phone calls or queries you get.

Here is the staggering verdict on the wonderful 'Tax is easy' TV campaigns we have seen. Last year, HMRC received a staggering 103 million calls from taxpayers - the peak at the tax credit renewal time in July. But here is the best part, 44 million of the calls were missed. So not only is tax not easy but the service surrounding querying and paying it is awful.

So that we are clear on the magnitude of how complex tax is, the 31 call centres around the country have the equivalent of 10,500 full time staff to take these calls - yet still this was nowhere near enough.

The National Audit Office called the service 'unacceptable' but this is like blaming the doorman for having only one entrance to Wembley stadium. If the design is rubbish then you will take millions of calls because people do not understand.

The growth in complexity in tax has been proportional to how much we pay over the last few years. Many people do not claim credits or get rebates because it is simply too difficult to understand who gets what and how to claim it. Also, it is very clear that even if you do work it all out, you have barely a 50% chance of getting through on the phone lines to check if you can or how to get it.

It's symptomatic of an ever more complex tax system that has spawned an industry in itself where even the lowest paid people are having to get their claims done or checked by fee-based accountants - it's a farce. And while you are hounded immediately for tax owed, don't hold your breath for payments of rebates as they come several months down the line and don't try to call as you will probably not get through.

The lunacy is that this level of service has actually 'improved' from last year with the number of missed calls down. The HMRC has responded by saying it is committed to providing a better and cheaper service - this is techno-speak for your calls will be answered by offshore people who will have access to your private details and drive you nuts because their job is to simply answer calls quicker but to fob you off not solve your problems - credit card companies like Marks & Spencer have that down to a tee.

So next year when you query your tax, you will likely have your call answered in the Philippines by someone who will confirm all your details and the amount owed and then say, 'The computer says no.'

The penny may drop, that if you decrease the complexity of the tax system, you would not need to have so many people to answer the phones as less people would call. But pigs will fly before that happens.

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