I heard something this week in the course of business that really upset me, and it has spared you, until I get around to it, a commentary on what activity might constitute trading and what might not.
I saw one of my clients this week to collect her books and those of her husband as they are both self-employed. Mrs. Y works with children. Times have been hard and generally people do not want to pay for luxuries and extras even for their children; hence Mr & Mrs Y as I shall call them have both been struggling and Mr Y had been unable to find any new assignments for a period. Fortunately his attributes have now landed him a decent engagement.
During the period of famine in the household my clients went to the Jobcentre Plus in the locality to apply for Jobseekers Allowance for Mr Y and for Housing Benefit since they have a mortgage to pay in addition to Council Tax etc. Mrs Y was required to produce her last accounts, prepared by my firm. The Jobcentre person looked down the profit and loss, or I should say, income and a lot of expenditure. She said “Of course I have to take these with a pinch of salt. Accountants produce figures to most suit the client. I cannot take into account some of these expenses” and she struck out the rent Mrs Y pays for her workspace used once a week in which to teach her pupils. This is the biggest expense, of course. Mrs Y told me she was shocked. Of course she was. When she related the story, I said “Why ever didn't you call me to ask me to speak to this person?” Mrs Y said that she felt the whole experience of dealing with the Jobcentre person was so humiliating that she did not want to prolong it by taking the matter up. She was clearly even now, months after this interview, quite shaken up.
Well, as I said, I am upset. Firstly, my client has been treated very badly by an intimidating and ignorant public servant. I know (because after a time in our business you get a nose for “dodginess” in people) that Mr & Mrs Y are completely honest, straight and decent people who do not deserve this treatment. Then again, I feel insulted on behalf of all tax advisers and accountants. The accounts were true and fair and every item was accounted for, backed by advices and receipts including obviously the rent arbitrarily “disallowed” by the aggressive woman in the Jobcentre, and of course all reconciled to my client's bank statements, paying in books and cheque stubs. I hardly need to spell it out except that I still cannot get over the attitude of the person.
In the end, despite my righteous anger at the aspersions cast at me, the worst aspect is that my clients have been deprived of benefit that is properly due to them as good taxpayers all these years. This sort of thing may be going on up and down the country for all I know. I wish my clients would make a complaint and I would back them all the way, but they would rather stay away from nasty officialdom, and I cannot say I blame them.
© Jon Stow 2009