Both my husband and I are self employed, so we spent much of today grappling with the world’s worst website, brought to you by the one and only HMRC.
Our lovely friend Rick helps us with our accounts and he is one of the calmest people I know. The website was making him so angry today that I was actually quite scared of him. It has the power to transform you into a raging psychopath.
I could go on for ever, but instead I shall tantalize you with phrases like ‘unique tax reference’, ‘wrong activitation code’ and ‘trust settings’. I shall ask you to log into a system that locks you out for an eternity if you make more than a couple of mistakes and then ask you to download a PDF that won’t download and then won’t let you input any information. Even writing about it makes me feel sick.
I’m sure whoever designed it is a lovely person, but the upshot of the site is that it makes you dread filing your return even more than you should do. It is genuinely difficult to use and must surely result in lots of people either a)failing to file a return b) filing late or c) filing wrong information. Any of these will result in fines from HMRC and more stress and expense for an individual/small business who just couldn’t get their head round this dreadful website.
I think you can imagine which direction I’m heading in now, namely the difference between the way us numpty tax payers are treated and the way HMRC treats the likes of Vodafone and Goldman Sachs. No hours spent sweating over the world’s worst website for these guys, just free lunches and gentleman’s agreements. No nasty letters or fines, just a pat on the back and that £7 billion tax bill, which could build rather a lot of schools, hospitals or council houses, is quietly forgotten.
The scandal has been highlighted brilliantly by the likes of UK Uncut and Occupy London, while the complex system of tax havens used by big business and wealthy individuals is investigated by Nicholas Shaxson in his ground-breaking book Treasure Islands.
Read it now. It’s amazing. It will blow your mind and make you even angrier (as if that were possible) the next time you log into the HMRC website.
Basically, the very act of paying tax in a regular way these days means you are a PROLE, a lower form of life. It means that you have failed to earn enough to afford a really crafty accountant, skilled in the Dark Arts of tax avoidance, which is legal, unlike tax evasion which is illegal. Why pay income tax with its 40 and 50 per cent tax brackets for high earners, when you can start a company and pay corporation tax or claim your earnings are a capital gain? Or if you travel a lot for work you could go ‘non dom’ and game the system even more.. All the smart people are at it; a friend of mine sheepishly admitted that she thought that she and her husband were the only parents at their son’s posh private prep school who weren’t ‘non dom’. I mean the SHAME of it all!!!!
Joking apart, the fact that all these clever dodges exist show that there really is one law for the rich and one for the poor as far as tax exists, while the normalisation of tax avoidance means that anyone who complains is seen as some kind of crazy Trot. It’s something that is obviously and ludicrously unfair, yet no-one in the political mainstream dares challenge it for fear of upsetting big business/the City/the markets – yadda, yadda, yadda.
Sorry for ranting; I think it’s some sort of post HMRC website traumatic stress disorder. So here’s a rather wonderful song by a rather wonderful artist called Buffy Sainte Marie. I think she says it all a lot more elegantly than I ever could: