I have heard it said that in this country either we like a good queue, or we accept it as the natural order of things. I have also heard it said that foreigners do not understand queuing and they go more for a free for all.
I have certainly witnessed a “queuing situation”, I think it was in Paris where queuers (from the UK) and non “queuers” (foreigners), competed in the same space. It was quite interesting to see how some of our fellow countrymen reacted to people not forming an orderly queue, although it was us that were foreigners and the so-called foreigners may well have been in their own country.
You just need to look at the recent lying in state of the late queen to see how we are conditioned to form an orderly queue. You will probably remember the uproar when everyone thought that Philip Scofield had jumped the queue, unlike David Beckham, the national treasure who queued for hours along with everyone else.
So, why, if we are conditioned to form a patient orderly queue, do we object so strongly to waiting patiently on the phone to get through to HMRC. Those of us that call HMRC regularly, know exactly what it is like. You ring, you get all the current information messages, you go through various menu choices, you hold for 30, 40, 50 minutes or longer listening to more messages and then you get “Please try later” and then the line goes silent. You have been cut off. And that is on the Agent dedicated helpline.
It did not used to be this way. We called the local tax office and spoke to the familiar voice of Inspectors and other Revenue staff, many of whom we knew on first name terms. Your calls were generally answered promptly and matters dealt with by people with whom you could have meaningful discussions. They trusted us and we trusted them.
When you phone now, the call could be answered by a Revenue officer from almost anywhere in the UK, if you are lucky enough to get through.
This is the new reality. Services starved of investment. I don’t want to get too political here but is this not what we are seeing in all of our major services delivered by Government whether it be HMRC, schools, NHS, police and the rest. Is this the result of the drive for smaller government and lower taxes? Anyway, we’ll get to have our say next year!
So what is so wrong with patiently waiting in an HMRC telephone queue. It’s a national characteristic that we practice almost from birth, and we generally do it very well. Is it because it is HMRC? They refer to us as customers. I actually think that was a good move for changing mindsets within the Revenue. But we do not feel like customers. They operate a monopoly of tax collection services, They fine and penalise us. If one of our service providers tried to do that, we would immediately push back and then change supplier. I think that the Revenue still have a long way to go before they become our preferred provider of tax collection services.
But do we really understand HMRC’s role in society? They are the bad guys because they force us to pay tax, changing the rules to suit themselves and their objective to collect even more tax. Government are the bad guys because they fail to deliver the service standards that we have come to expect. So, to end on a thoughtful, maybe contentious note, are they not both good guys because between them they try to collect taxes fairly distributed across us all and then deliver the services that they believe we want? Maybe we need to change our mindsets.
So, why are you not happy paying your taxes? Should you not be volunteering to pay a little extra just to help out? I think I know what you are thinking just now and no, I have not flipped. We will continue to keep your tax payments to a legal minimum. You can choose to pay a little extra if that is what you want to do.
Alan E Long
The Long Partnership