The deep freeze set in after Sir Nick Montagu retired from his position
heading the Inland Revenue where he had instigated an ‘enabling’ approach – ie.
‘helping’ taxpayers make sure they cough up their fair dues.
Since his departure, and the merger to create HMRC, the approach to business
has been turned on its head. From the outside it seems the taxman’s approach is
solely about increasing revenues, rather than fairness.
Recent developments mean that if a thaw is expected, it may not come early
this year. Chris Tailby writes opposite that HMRC is seeking powers that would
allow it to go to the Special Commissioners for rulings that would make certain
avoidance schemes notifiable. Elsewhere it’s been reported that tax inspectors
want the power to tap telephones and bug premises. At the moment there’s no lack
of appetite for aggressive tactics over at HMRC.
If that’s the case, it will take some time before relations improve and
finance directors believe that HMRC understands their needs. Tax collection
can’t be just about maximising revenue. It’s got to be about helping taxpayers
understand the system, clarifying their obligations and establishing a regime
that makes it easy to pay and the UK a good place to do business.
The current approach can seem one dimensional and not entirely engaged in all
these aspects of being the taxman. But that could be a problem of communication.
Tailby’s piece is a start, but perhaps that’s where the challenge lies.