I opened the "Tax Credits Annual Review" package from those nice people at HMRC this morning and promptly ruined my weekend.
I think all of us know how botched the entire system has been since inception, with many people in Thanet having experienced real personal hardship through Inland Revenue mistakes. Now, this latest form appears to be nothing less than a second tax return, which also wishes to know the ethnicity of the applicant.
The fundamental problem for most self-employed people in completing the return is that it requires most of the detail that would be contained in the annual tax return by the end of July rather than January of next year, with particular emphasis on "other forms" of income; i.e. were you ever paid in cash or did you receive the benefit of a chocolate bar from a previous employer?
I'm not joking about the chocolate bar. Two years ago, I had my first tax inspection - we will all have one every five years or so now - The inspector, who took the trouble to travel all the way from Edinburgh for a very simple job, spent a morning at my accountant rustling through all my receipts and pulled-out one with a trumphant expression. It was a petrol receipt which included a 36 pence 'Topic' bar.
"Was this chocolate bar included on your client's P11d" asked the Inspector.
"No" replied my accountant, "Very often my client has no time to take lunch and the chocolate bar should be classified as subsistence."
The two spent some time arguing over this vital detail before the Inspector conceded that perhaps I was not involved in an organised chocolate evasion fraud but it does illustrate how invasive, convoluted and indeed, downright stupid, the system has become under the man who is about to become our next Prime Minister.
When I was canvassing before the council elections, I met families who were being squeezed by rising interest rates and were worried by the same tax credit system that was supposed to be helping them. The guidance notes for the pack are 34 pages long and I wonder how many people will be able to read and understand the detail that is required and the implications of making a simple mistake?
Tens of thousands of people made simple errors last time around and their lives were made a misery and you can guarantee that if you don't make a mistake of your own, the in that lottery controlled by the Inland Revenue, there's an excellent chance of a mistake being made for you with little or no chance of justice at the end of it. One of Gordon's greatest gifts to the nation you might think or perhaps you have another opinion of the system we now enjoy?