Across the country just now people are tearing their hair out trying to get their tax returns in. People who are wealthy do it the easy way – handing everything over to an accountant and getting on with their lives – but for everyone else it’s a little harder.
There will be window-cleaners, beauty therapists and electricians scratching their heads and trying to work out what they can claim as a business expense.
At the same time there will be parents trying to work out whether they can claim tax credits and employees wondering whether their PAYE is correct.
A few years ago the answer was simple – walk into your local tax office and ask the people behind the counter to give you some help. You can’t do that today because that tax office is gone and you have to get on the phone to HMRC, spend ages waiting to get through (if your call gets answered – a quarter of them don’t get answered at all) and then have to explain the problem to a tax inspector who might or might not be able to help. Or you can go online and try to follow the guidance they have there, but it’s not the same as being able to ask someone who actually knows the system and the forms and understands what’s being asked.
HMRC is looking to shrink its offices even further and create some huge centres to handle all of this – one in Edinburgh – but you still won’t be able to walk in and ask. While the tax system is getting more complicated the help to understand it and make sure you don’t pay too much tax is being taken away. The folk with plenty of money can afford to pay for the help; the folk who most need the help can’t afford it.
If the UK Government wants people to keep being honest with their taxes and keep paying what they’re due then they should be offering the help where it’s needed, not sooking it back so we’re left to fend for ourselves. That’s not much to ask, is it?
Deidre Brock is SNP MP for Edinburgh North and Leith