Yes, here it comes again – a vitriolic attack on HMRC. And no apologies for this.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to help out a client who was getting some grief from HMRC about some outstanding returns – and about £70k allegedly owing. I duly wrote to HMRC, on 19 February 2010, but received no reply. I then tried phoning the National VAT Advice Line. I should have known better, as all I got was an answering machine telling me they were busy. I tried on numerous occasions, at different times of the day, for the next week or two. No joy, still the same supercilious woman apologising that they were busy. How can they be too busy at 7.30 pm? I later emailed, twice, but again, at the time of writing this, I have still not had a reply.
Over the past few years I have become increasingly irritated at the refusal by HMRC to provide sensible written advice to taxpayers and I have all but given up on this, despite enlisting the help of various accountancy bodies – the CIOT and the IIT to name but two. I was even invited to a meeting at the Treasury by HMRC, but soon realised that those in charge of telling the front line staff how to respond were on a different planet from the rest of us.
I am sure that HMRC acknowledge that most taxpayers are anxious to get it right – to declare the right amount of tax at the right time. However, there is also an acknowledgement that VAT law is quite complex, but sadly they seem to forget that not every businessman is a VAT expert. Just occasionally, therefore, it would be nice to think that when someone asks for help, that help could be given.
Nope, sorry they don’t.
It is either “Sorry you haven’t covered the 20 points on the checklist” that are required before you can even ask, or else “We are not obliged to provide an answer when the topic is covered in our published guidance.” OK, but do you really expect a builder to find your website? Then find the requisite publication? Then find the appropriate paragraph in that publication? And then be confident enough with the answer to be able to apply whatever the answer is? Well, sorry, this is the real world, and you are sadly deluded if you think that this is acceptable behaviour for civil servants to adopt. You might be able to find and understand the guidance. I might be able to find the answer, but do you really expect a builder to be able to find and apply the answer without a little help?
Oh, and another thing – when I write to you seeking confirmation of something, why do you bother telling me where to look in the guidance? Do you not think that when a VAT consultant writes to HMRC, they have not already looked there?