More poor service for pensioners

Published on 5 December 2007

Our recent survey showing poor performance by banks and HMRC regarding tax over-deducted from bank interest has been followed by HMRC publishing an update of its leaflet on the subject. It is late; it is incomplete; it is unhelpful to those with disabilities; it lacks customer focus and merely confirms how badly HMRC serves its low income customers.

Towards the end of November HMRC published an update for 2007-08 of their leafletIR111 Bank and Building Society Interest which provides guidance to people on low incomes on how to protect themselves from having too much tax deducted from their interest on savings.

On numerous occasions over the last few years we have made suggestions to HMRC as to how this leaflet can be made more helpful and how they can improve its distribution. Regrettably our pleas have been dismissed.

The points we have made in the past include:

Up to date

Leaflets need to be up to date. To bring a leaflet up to date nearly into December when the rules changed in April is not very helpful.

The leaflet refers the reader off many times to the HMRC website for more detailed information. Many customers will not be able to access the internet.

If you do go online you are recommended to feed your details into an HMRC tax calculator especially designed to help with bank interest; but the trouble is that this will calculate your liability for the tax year 2006-07.

Available

A leaflet primarily targeted at the low income pensioner audience needs to reach that audience. Since its cost-cutting programme such leaflets are not stocked in HMRC’s Enquiry Centres.

The HMRC telephone Orderline for leaflets is still using up stocks of the old leaflet so if you ask them today to send you a leaflet you may get one that is relevant to the 2006-07 tax year.

Comprehensible

The leaflet tells you to include taxable incapacity benefit when calculating your tax liability. Nowhere does it explain what that might be. There might only be a few hundred people employed by HMRC who will know the answer to that, yet the vulnerable customer is expected to know what sorts of incapacity benefit are taxable and what are not.

Co-ordinated with the DWP

It is important for this type of leaflet to be co-ordinated with the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) as many mistakes are made about the tax status of State benefits. It does not do so and therefore examples which are used in the leaflet are misleading. For example, it instructs you not to include as income “social security benefits” yet something like Carer’s Allowance is taxable.

Accessible for those with disabilities

In one part of the leaflet it tells those with disabilities to ask for help at your local HMRC office or Enquiry centre. In another part it recommends telephoning and in another it recommends the website. None are likely to be satisfactory.

Many of the readers of this leaflet will have disabilities. There are no textphone numbers listed for those who are hard of hearing.

The reader who needs a large print leaflet is referred off to a special link in the HMRC website. The problem is that the link does not exist.

If the reader is tenacious then you can find a large print version on the HMRC website using the search engine; unfortunately it is for 2005-06.

Conclusion

The solution to this problem is for HMRC to:

  1. commit to producing useful guidance on a timely basis;
  2. give authority to those within HMRC who understand customers' needs to deal with the issues;
  3. give such people a sensible budget - in time and money terms - to allow them to address those needs;
  4. make sure the result is practical guidance that reaches those who need it; and
  5. in the meantime, resolve not to attack customers who, lacking guidance, make mistakes.

(05-12-2007)

Contact: John Andrews (Tel: 0844 579 6700 Fax 0844 579 6701)