The Charter attempts to set out HMRC’s standards of conduct, and what they consider themselves entitled to expect from us taxpayers (or “customers” as they insist on calling us, stretching the meaning of that word to its very limit).
It is easy to be cynical about this document with its mixture of aspirational piety and half-truths: “We make sure that money is available to fund the UK’s public services...” it begins, as if all the taxes collected were spent on such worthy causes, and not on MP’s inflated expenses and other even more disreputable matters. The point of this article, however, is to identify certain aspects of the Charter that may be useful in the future when dealing with HMRC. There are buttons here that can be pressed to achieve better results for the long-suffering taxpayer.
The Charter takes the form of nine “rights”, and three “obligations” that HMRC will respect in their dealings with all taxpayers (sorry, “customers”).
Here are three of the rights that may come in particularly handy when dealing with HMRC officials:
Right Number 3 – “You can expect us to treat you as honest”
This is followed by an undertaking to “presume you are telling the truth,” “unless we have good reason not to”, and to “only question what you tell us if we have good reason to”.
This does not of course mean that they will swallow any tale you care to spin them, but it could prove useful to remind an inspector of this wording when, as happens too often, a true and reasonable explanation is dismissed in the absence of documentary evidence. In such cases, it will be worthwhile asking for an explanation of the inspector’s “good reason” for not believing you!
Right Number 5 “You can expect us to be professional and act with integrity”
The commentary for this Right includes an undertaking to “make sure you are dealt with by people who have the right level of expertise”, and I am looking forward to using that one. It quite frequently happens that the lack of competence of an official dealing with a client means that it is necessary to seek to get the matter referred up the line to someone who knows what they are doing, and there is normally considerable resistance to this – no doubt in future this will be less of a problem thanks to this undertaking in the Charter.
Right Number 9 “You can expect us to do all we can to keep the cost of dealing with us as low as possible”
This will be worth quoting when asked for an unreasonable level of detailed analysis of items in a set of accounts. HMRC are of course entitled to ask for more detail when examining accounts, but there is a tendency to go over the top in demanding a level of analysis that is unreasonably minute.
The Charter will be launched soon, no doubt with something of a fanfare, and it will be important that those dealing with HMRC in the future remind them of its existence and seek to hold them to its promises.