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Making most of a taxing matter

In recent years the Chancellor has heaped loads of additional duties onto the Inland Revenue.

Dealing with the Inland Revenue can sometimes be a taxing affair but there are some guidelines you should follow to make sure you get the best out of the tax office

The old Inland Revenue dealt in the main with income tax, corporation tax and capital gains tax. HM Revenue and Customs now combines these taxes with handling child benefit, VAT, Child Support , National Insurance, import duties, border protection, Child Tax Credits, recovery of student loans...the list goes on.

With such an ever-expanding list of tasks of course resources would be provided to match. Mmm. No, the government sees fit to impose massive staff cuts, especially on those front line staff handling the core task — income tax.

It is little wonder then that customer service is not always what you would like it to be. Correspondence goes unanswered. Tax calculations get sent out which are wrong. Tax codes are up the left. Duff advice is given over the phone. These problems stem, in my opinion, from a department with too few senior experienced staff and which has for years had to deal with constant and substantial change.

That's the bulk of my whinge off my chest, so how then should you get the best out of your tax office?

By interacting with the Revenue in a certain way you increase the chances of your issue being dealt with properly and promptly.

My advice includes:

l References on letters. Always include the right references when writing to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). This gets your letter to the right place more quickly

l Keep copies. Never send a letter or piece of paper to HMRC without keeping a copy of it. Things do get lost, so have a back-up

l Keep telephone enquiries to simple matters

l Get a name. Always, always get the name of the officer you are talking to. Then make sure you have written down the date and time of the call, their name and brief details of what was said

l Chase things up. You should get a reply within about three weeks of your letter. Wait say four weeks then write a reminder letter. Next reminder 10 days later. Rack up the pressure!

l Use the complaints system. I was dismayed recently to learn that complaints about poor or slow service in Northern Ireland tax offices are now passed to an office in West Yorkshire. You do not need to write there as your complaint should be spotted in the local office then passed on with all the papers. If you are a bit miffed then you should clearly mark your letter "POTENTIAL COMPLAINT". If you have tried sorting things and are genuinely unhappy then mark the letter "COMPLAINT CASE". In theory these actions will help junior management spot the letters and move things along;

l If all else fails? If the Revenue still cannot sort things out you can take the matter to your MP or complain to The Revenue Adjudicator. Tel 0300 057 1111 or see;

l And finally — don't shout. Getting angry with the specific person you are talking to on the phone will achieve nothing positive. They are trying their best to help you, even if it may not feel that way! They may justifiably terminate the call if you are unpleasant or loud. If you find your blood pressure rising then either say you will call back or ask to speak to a supervisor.

Adrian Huston, a former tax inspector, is a director of Belfast tax and accountancy firm Huston & Co — or 028 9080 6080

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