Mrs Doyle, tea lady to Channel Four’s Father Ted, should this week have seen the end of her days promoting self-assessment deadlines for the Inland Revenue.
Variously attired in dressing gown, hair curlers, comfy cardy and overall, Mrs Doyle has for the past few months filled our TV screen with her entreaty to ‘go on, go on, go on, and fill in your self-assessment form’.
She was, after all is said and done, a huge change from Hector the tax inspector who was unceremoniously retired from service by Inland Revenue head Sir Nick Montagu a year ago.
Hector, in pinstripes and bowler hat, was viewed as male, middle class and white. And dependably dull. But he was not the profile the Revenue wanted to project, especially Sir Nick who, above all else, wanted to see the Revenue modernise.
But although Mrs Doyle was only ever meant to be temporary – seeing the Revenue through to this year’s 31 January self-assessment deadline – was she effective?
It’s best to let the figures speak for themselves but it is widely expected that the number of people who missed this year’s deadline will be no greater or smaller than last year when 900,000 failed to get their returns in.
On 25 January this year only 6.9m of the 9.2m returns had come in on time – a worrying number but, as experts like to warn, there’s always a massive last-minute rush.
What we do know is that the number of returns to reach the Revenue by the 30 September deadline, even with the help of Mrs Doyle’s publicity, was the lowest ever at 4.2m. Indeed a recent poll of 1,000 people for Marketing magazine revealed 39% thought Mrs Doyle one of the ‘most abrasive, aggravating, disturbing, infuriating, annoying and cheesy TV ads of the year’.
We now await Mrs Doyle’s replacement. M&C Saatchi & Saatchi have been on the case and will no doubt have spent a large chunk of the £5m budget handed over to Ian Schoolar, the Revenue’s director of marketing, for promoting the tax collectors.
However, some question whether the money is well spent on advertising at all.
John Whiting, president of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, suggests that the money might be better spent researching who and where the taxpayers are that are not getting their forms in on before the deadline.
In addition he says: ‘If the advertising is about raising the Revenue’s profile and showing how con- sumer-friendly and business-friendly it is, I’m not sure Mrs Doyle was the right character.’
Chas Roy Chowdhury, head of tax at ACCA, questions whether the Revenue has got its statistics right about latepayers. Many of those who receive forms, he says, may either be dead, or non-taxpayers who just ignore the form. More to the point he adds: ‘People are getting fed up of doing this tax compliance work on behalf of the government.’
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