The Taxpayers Charter short and not sweet

The Taxpayers Charter has undergone numerous changes over the years and HMRC are proposing another revision with the consultation having closed on 15 August.

Over the years the Charter has morphed from a Taxpayers Charter to Your Charter to the proposed HMRC Charter, and it seems to me that the overriding principle has been to “keep it short and with simple, accessible language”. It has to be said they have indeed kept it short, but to me that brevity has come at some cost.

The present Charter sets out in only seven sections what we can expect from HMRC and what HMRC can expect from the taxpayer – or to use their much-loved and frankly equally much-derided term, their ‘customers’. There is a certain symmetry in the two sections that show quite clearly that the taxpayer and HMRC are equals and that each has expectation of each other but neither one is dominant.

‘Rights’ or ‘values’?

The new proposed charter has basically replaced ‘rights’ with ‘values’, and I know which I’d prefer. Brevity and ‘Accessible Language’ most definitely have a place and no one likes verbose legal-speak documents (unless you are in the law profession and then you welcome them with open arms). But the race to the lowest common denominator, masking a desire to reduce our rights, is not acceptable.

This is the opening line of the existing charter: Your Rights – what you can expect from us.

It has been replaced by: Working with you to get tax right

As I say, it’s no longer about rights but about values.

There is undoubtedly a lot of watering down of our rights by language that is similar but far from unequivocal. Take, for example, the current ‘Charter under Your Rights’, which starts out quite unequivocally:

1.1 Respect you and treat you as honest

It says among other things: “We’ll presume that you’re telling us the truth, unless we have good reason to think otherwise.”

Treating you fairly

“We trust you are telling the truth, unless we have good reason to think you’re not”

“Presume” to “trust” – need I say more?

George Orwell said: “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity”. I sense an insincerity in the language used in the proposed Charter.

• Tony Margaritelli, Chairman at ICPA

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