The Taxman, or Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), owes me money.
£1268.48 to be precise.
Like the decent chaps they are, they sent me a note admitting the fact. This note suggested I should call 0845 300 3939 to claim my refund, which I did, only to hear a recorded voice say, “We value your call. All our consultants are busy. Thank you for your call. Goodbye.”
The line then went immediately dead.
I rang again, and got another message to tell me that, if I went to HMRC’s website, I’d find valuable help there to get back my money. So I went to the site, and found that I couldn’t claim my refund online.
The site said that what I really needed to do was to phone 0845 300 3939 or go to my local tax office, which turned out to be in a small office in The Virgin Fitness Centre in a bleak area off the Holloway Road in London. Actually, most places off the Holloway Road are rather bleak, but not as bleak as the Holloway Tax Office.
I took a book with me, because these things usually take some time. I needn’t have bothered. There were just two people. The place was silent. No phones rang. The double glazing killed sounds from the street two storeys below. The corridor outside was deserted.
In a small office sat two men. One, an elderly white chap, hid in a corner in a glassed-in office, staring at his computer screen. He didn’t look up. Outside his cubicle sat a completely bored young Ghanaian gentleman. He inspected my documents. “Yes,” he conceded, “we owe you money. You’ll have to ring 0845 300 3939.”
I explained I’d already rung 0845 300 3939 quite a few times and would prefer, instead, to be buried by the ordure of a thousand camels rather than have to go through that again.
With a cunning grin and a sly wink, he said, as he tapped the side of his nose, “We have our own Special Connection.”
So, I trudged to the other side of the office, which was powerfully reminding me of Highgate Cemetery West, and rang the number. It was unobtainable.
The young Ghanaian then had a go. He got a recording telling him to try his local Tax Office. It also suggested that the number 0845 300 3939 could be curiously helpful.
Eventually, I got through and spoke to a young Scot.
“Yes,” he readily conceded, “we have £1268.48 of your money. It’s probably gone into HMRC‘s Staff Holiday Fund – only joking. Do we have your bank details?”
Me: “Yes, you do have my bank details. You extract large sums of VAT by direct debit several times a year from my bank account.”
Him: “Ah. Noo. We’re Income Tax here.”
Me: “Can I give you my details over the phone?”
Him: “Och. Noo. You’ll have to give them to us on your next Tax Return.”
Me: “What? Next January?”
Him: “Och. Aye.”
Me: “Could VAT give you my details?”
Him: “Are you mad?”
So, here’s a quick digital rant.
How about every taxpayer having an online account with HMRC? The account would be subdivided into Income Tax, VAT and so on. You could deposit whatever sums take your fancy, and either withdraw or leave in your account any sums you have overpaid. HMRC could, by email, send you statements, payment alerts or refund notices. And you could manage your tax liability, just as you manage your bank account. How about that for a novel idea? Perhaps a bit of digital marketing might help tax-payers want to join in.
However, I rather suspect that there are some strong institutional reasons why this might not happen, regional unemployment being one. And there being a General Election in progress. And every Government IT project always turning into a disaster.
My Scottish consultant friend at HMRC said that they couldn’t take my bank details over the phone. Well, OK, but how about by email or via the HMRC website? It works perfectly well with First Direct and Amazon. Why not HMRC? I didn’t get very far with this line of questioning, and soon, that was that. “Thank you for your call which we valued, and goodbye.”
Anyway, I’ve been promised that there’s a cheque in the post.
We shall see.