Sunday, 12 September 2010

PAYE overpayments, underpayments and intrusions

This week has seen a media-whipped furore over the inadequacies of the PAYE system and I am not going to expand on what others have said. If you want a sensible summary of the position then please look here.

There are a couple of worrying things which go beyond the “failure” of HMRC's PAYE system. It has to be remembered that Dave Hartnett, the Permanent Secretary for Tax, who has taken a lot of flak for a slightly undiplomatic comment on BBC's Money Box is not a politician but a Civil Servant. If he were politician he would perhaps be more careful, but anyway he would gave been out of office with the change in Government if he had been simply in the pocket of Alastair Darling and more significantly, Gordon Brown. Of course in the longer term there might be a conflict with the new administration, but Mr. Hartnett has been in the higher echelons of HMRC for a while now.

The point is that the cumbersome PAYE system is not perfect. It is better than it was in providing information and that is how the discrepancies in tax collected have come to light. HMRC has been forced to make many spending cuts over the last few years, which can't have helped. These were mainly driven by Gordon Brown as Mr. Hartnett told a number of tax practitioners on the one occasion a couple of years ago when I had a chance to talk to him. If the system were perfect we would not be having a new consultation which is now in play to see how it can be overhauled.

Mr. Hartnett can be careless with his words as he was on the radio and perhaps when talking to us tax advisers a couple of years ago. He may be overly suspicious of motives behind questions as he seemed a little paranoid about the supposed involvement of all tax advisers in tax avoidance when he addressed the meeting I was at.

That does not mean that his privacy should be treated as a target by the media Yes, he is in charge of an important Government department, and should be more media-savvy. However, he didn't get to the top because he was no good. He was a successful Inspector of Taxes and was involved in a number of high profile cases on the Revenue's behalf. He is at the top because he is good and not because he is a politician.

I knew he lived in Hertfordshire because he told our group. I have no interest in his house or what cars his family owns. He is not a footballer or rock star who feeds off media interest and is seen as fair game for exposés (if anyone should be?). What he has, he has earned, but it is none of our business, and nor is it the business of a possibly fictional neighbour of his, quoted in a Sunday newspaper story.
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