How do you react to receiving a letter out of the blue from HMRC? Do you put it right at the top of your 'to-do' list or do you bury it in the hope that it will go away? And when you do get around to dealing with it, do you understand why it has been sent to you and what you are expected to do with it?
HMRC’s independent research in this area focused on random enquiries sent to child benefit claimants asking them to prove that they were entitled to benefit, but the findings of the research are of much wider application.
Two particular points caught my attention. The first is that recipients wanted a better explanation of why they had been sent the letter. They wanted to know that the letters were genuinely sent out at random and that they had not been singled out because HMRC thought they were doing something wrong.
The second is that they wanted to know that their reply had been received. The letter from HMRC said that recipients would be contacted within 60 days to inform them about any changes to their child benefit payments. When faced with a threat of losing child benefit completely, it is understandable that people didn’t want to wait two months before finding out that everything was in order. In particular, they wanted some assurance that HMRC had actually received their reply, perhaps via text message.
This issue of timeliness is particularly important. Older readers will remember that the standard wording in mail order catalogues was ‘allow 28 days for delivery’. Now we expect deliveries to be received within 24 hours. Similarly, we are used to instant communication via email, so 60 days now seems as antiquated as Morse code and semaphore. HMRC’s digital transformation could play a big part here if it can be made to work effectively for all taxpayers.
HMRC is to be commended for carrying out this research and not simply working on the basis that the way in which it does things is always right. Let’s hope that the detailed recommendations in this, and other similar research reports, are carried though into practice.
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