After a blissful four year distance between me and the British tax system it was a very unpleasant surprise to be reunited with the knotted stomach and desperate gloom that comes free with an unsolicited letter from HMRC. It was addressed to me at my mother-in-law’s house, where we lived for a while after landing ashore, and informed me that I owed them several hundred pounds as a fine for not filing my tax return on time. Now, four years is a tad late I agree but why did it take them so long to tell me? And what are they going to do if I tell them to shove it up their collective arses? Extradite me?
So I called them. There are cheaper ways of spending three quarters of an hour in the company of officious inflexible cretins, and so I advise you not to try this course of action if you find yourself in a similar predicament. The upshot of the call was:
* I had to fill in tax returns for the previous three years, because I had never told them I was leaving the country.
* They can’t deal with this over the phone.
The second point is extremely annoying, while the first is as wrong as it is stupid.
So, I filled in the back of the form with a short note explaining the situation and sent it off. Once they realised I wasn’t eligible they would surely recognise that they had bigger fish to fry…cough…Vodaphone… and leave me alone.
A month later, a big bumper package arrived at not my house and my mother in law was kind enough to bring it round. It contained three photo-copied tax assessment forms for previous years together with a curt letter telling me to fill the fucking forms in because it was the fucking law (or words to that effect).
At this point, perhaps I should have spotted the familiar signs and recognised that this was me trying to argue with a faceless bureaucratic leviathan; just fill the forms in and send them back – it wouldn’t take more than an hour.
But what I actually thought was fuck that! I’m not wasting my time trying just to appease a gormless jobsworth who can’t wrap her head around their software. So I looked at the HMRC website and tried to find a way to talk to someone with a clue. It became apparent that the only real possibility would be to write a complaint.
So I wrote a frank, and honest, letter of complaint. OK it’s a bit sarcastic in places, and the tone isn’t exactly respectful but again, what are they going to do? If they grabbed me at the airport the next time I flew in I’d just fill the bloody paper work in and they’d have to let me go.
Today, a few weeks later, my mother in law delivered a very thin envelope from HMRC. The letter contained the wonderful paragraph:
I have accepted your appeal, which is determined under Section 54 Taxes Management Act 1970. I have cancelled the penalty.
It’s the little victories that make me happy. The next time they contact me I’ll fax a copy of that letter on the page before the photo of my arse.