Taking Stock: HMRC turns to Wikipedia in its search for answers

IT SEEMS that the majority of HMRC’s recent redundancies have been within its case review department, after one review officer used Wikipedia to determine the correct tariff classification of electromagnetic switches.

The taxman was chastised during a tribunal between HMRC and Bedfordshire-based manufacturer RJS Electronics over the classification of four switches that are made and sold by the company.

HMRC decided that the switches should be classed as “push button switches”, a classification that attracts a duty rate of 2.3%. RJS argued that they should be classed as “electromechanical snap-action switches” which have a duty rate of 0%.

HMRC’s review decision, against which RJS appealed, was issued on 23 May 2014. The review officer based his decision largely on the definition of “electromechanical” taken from Wikipedia and said: “there is little guidance on the type of product and the Wikipedia information is not altogether clear but all things considered I must… uphold the decision.”

RJS challenged the officer’s reading of the definition to the tribunal, arguing that “it is very important that someone classifying electronic goods is not just reading some page on the internet but they have at least a minimal understanding of the electronic terms”.

TS certainly agrees with the electronics firm’s argument. Has the situation at HMRC become so bad that its staff have to rely on Wikipedia, an information service that anyone can edit, for help during a tribunal?

With rumours swirling that Post Office chief exec Paula Vennells could become HMRC’s next CEO, TS is hoping that she can deliver some better researching skills to the department.

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