HMRC has been accused of bullying by encouraging those who owe tax to pay off their debts more quickly than necessary.
Officials are failing to mention the minimum amount the taxman would be able to accept to set up instalment plans for outstanding bills when people in arrears call to settle their debts. Instead, they suggest sums that may be more than the caller can afford. The tactics, which were introduced in March, are displayed on screens at HMRC call centres, according to reports in The Sun newspaper. The ‘hints and tips’’ on ‘maximising’ payments include challenging the customer’s offer, “even if the initial offer meets our expectations”.
Critics say that taxpayers who owe money through innocent mistakes are being unfairly penalised.
Patrick Sullivan, chairman of the think tank Parliament Street, said: “Once again, bullying tax chiefs are raking in cash from those who are struggling the most. All staff should be instructed to give honest advice in the best interests of the taxpayer.”
HMRC said that most people paid their tax on time and in full, and that it was important for taxpayers to settle debts as quickly as possible to bring in revenue to support public services. “We are extremely supportive to all taxpayers with debts, especially vulnerable customers, and continuously review guidance to ensure it meets our high public service commitments,” it said in a statement.
A source at HMRC added: “We ask questions to understand individual circumstances, helping us to identify customers in hardship to allow HMRC to tailor their treatment appropriately . . . their initial offer may not be the best arrangement for both parties.”
A report published last year criticised HMRC for failing to consider whether taxpayers were treated fairly.