HMRC surveys effectiveness of its ... surveys

23 September 2015

Andrew Hubbard 

Tax policy must be developed on the back of quality data and analysis. The same goes for ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of those policies once they are enacted. So what do the latest surveys from HMRC tell us about the effectiveness of its own surveys? 

We’ve discussed in these columns before the importance of tax policy being developed on the back of quality data and analysis. The same goes for ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of those policies once they are enacted. 

HMRC now has a regular programme of independent research surveys which seek to test taxpayer reaction to various aspects of the system. The latest tranche of these has just been published: they cover a bewildering variety of topics, from follow up call to the tax credit helpline to views on how the introduction of ATED (the annual tax on property held within properties). My favourite is the one in which people who had been imprisoned were asked about their motivation for evading tax. I suspect that some of the answers were less polite than the ones which found their way into the survey!

There is even a report on the effectiveness of HMRC’s tax surveys themselves.

This is all to the good and a core of knowledge and information is being built up. But I have a couple of concerns. 

The first is whether or not all of this data will actually inform future policy developments. We do have a history in this country of what appear to be knee-jerk reactions to issues which suddenly hit the headlines (the restriction of interest relief on rented property in the year’s budget being a case in point): carefully nuanced evidence-based policies tend to go out of the window on such occasions. 

Secondly, I do have concerns about the design of some of the surveys. I have taken part in several such surveys over the last couple of years (by phone and on line). My experience, and others may have different views, is that they are too long, have too many questions and tend to be very repetitive. I usually start with the best of intentions and give thoughtful and considered responses to the first few questions. But all too often enthusiasm wanes, and the temptation to give any old answer simply to get back to the rest of my life becomes very strong. I can’t always resist temptation!






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