It's little irritations like this – plus some much larger ones – that has changed the relationship between tax collectors and taxpayers. I was brought up to believe that the police were there to help you, and that tax inspectors were reasonable people. As was the case. Now, the fuzz just see you as a potential way of meeting their arrest targets, while tax inspectors are looking for any new wheeze to chisel money out of you. It's the malign influence of Gordon Brown and his obsession with targets. It makes tax officials so desperate to squeeze the last drop of revenue out of us that the Treasury even sent a team over to the Adam Smith Institute to ask if we had any ideas on new ways to tax people and make them pay quicker. That's desperation for you – the desperation of people suffering under targetitis.
To add even more insult to injury, HMRC sent me a letter on 12 August claiming I hadn't paid my tax bill at all, and demanding still more interest. No doubt some people without muscular accountants fall for this ruse. The sum was tiny, but I was so outraged I checked it up, which is how I found I was 'only' due six days' worth.
This isn't a public service any more. It's not even a business, because businesses have higher moral standards. It's more like a protection racket. And the trouble is, that the world our political leaders live in has drifted so far from that of ordinary, decent people that they can't actually see that.
Ah well, I'll know for next time. My tax bill was due on 31 July, so I duly wrote the cheque and posted it first class on 29 July. Even the Royal Mail couldn't take more than two days to deliver a first-class letter, I reckoned. So I was surprised when Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs sent me a bill for interest on an 'overdue amount'. At an eyewatering 7.5 percent (outrageously high, since the Treasury borrows at far less) - and compounded daily, no doubt.
But my accountant explained it to me. These days, HMRC work more like a bank and less like a public service. Annoying, isn't it, when you draw money out of your account and the bank debits it right away, but when you pay money in to your account the bank takes three days to get round to crediting it? Well, for one reason or another my cheque wasn't credited to HMRC until 6 August, so that's six days' interest I had to pay. And I've no idea how long my cheque was kicking around some office in Kilmarnock before anyone bothered to take it to the bank. But that, apparently, is my problem.
Treasury ministers might say that's just being 'businesslike', but it isn't. When a business sends you a thirty-day invoice, and you give them a cheque on the last day that counts as payment. Debt settled. Not with HMRC, though. Your tax debt is settled only when they have the actual hard cash from your bank. My interest bill strikes me as sharp practice that no commercial enterprise would get away with, or even think moral... [Cont'd - click 'read more']