Tuesday 1 March 2011

Come on George, simplify the tax system

I worked for three Conservative shadow chancellors during my time working in the Houses of Parliament and in Conservative campaign HQ. An annual theme for a quick media hit was to comment on the size of Tolley's - the guide to tax law - which grew in length and complexity during Labour's time in office.

My job then was to get media hits as a way to hold the governmnet to account and, to be honest, I gave little thought to the impact the complex tax arrangements of this country had on ordinary people.

After receiving six letters in three weeks from HM Revenue & Customs including the dreaded one saying I had underpaid tax, I now take a keen interest and have just called them to get to the bottom of what is going on.  

After waiting on hold for just over 25 minutes I explained my situation (that I am a self employed consultant and filled in my tax return a few weeks ago resulting in a small tax rebate). The analysis from south Wales was that another department within Revenue & Customs had gotten their sums wrong; they would dust off the calculator and write to me again with a new calculation.

That the softly spoken tax man at the end of the line was kind, polite and efficient is not the issue. To me having to spend hours working out if I am complying with the law is hours I could be spending winning new contracts or advising current clients. Both of these tasks create wealth - for me and my clients - while sitting on the phone on hold does not.

If the system was simpler it would be easier for small businesses like me and the tax man wouldn't make as many errors or need to be supported by such a large bureacracy. Tolley's is now 11,520 pages long, so my plea - my budget submission if you like - is to see a simpler tax system and quickly.   

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