MONEY TALK: If the Revenue's rude, call the ref

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Depending on which interested party you listen to, the new self- assessment tax return system is anything from a nightmare for taxpayers (hark not a few accountants and tax advisers) to something a lot more palatable than the old system (cue that cuddly cartoon character Hector the Tax Inspector who fronts the Revenue's ads).

Personally, I'm trying to keep an open mind, not least because I've yet to tackle my own tax return (and in case my own dear tax inspector should happen to be reading this). But, it has to be said, the omens are far from good, judging by a report published last week on complaints about the Revenue in the last tax year by the government's own complaints referee. Elizabeth Filkin, who runs the Adjudicator's Office, said she was getting more complaints, particularly about rude or unfriendly behaviour by tax officials. In one example, a Revenue official had even written to a taxpayer and described him as "obnoxious", a comment that not surprisingly made collecting his tax "almost impossible". She also highlighted examples of "very poor work" by officials - including taxpayers having county court judgments wrongly taken out against them for non-payment of tax, being visited by bailiffs, or facing huge tax bills because of earlier poor Revenue advice. Ms Filkin's main positive comment was that the Revenue had become much better at handling complaints related to rules and procedures, as opposed to the way taxpayers were treated on a personal level.

Much of this does not bode well for a big change like self-assessment, a system that offers the prospect of more penalties and interest charges and which affects more than 8 million taxpayers.

Fortunately, the Revenue also seems to be getting better at publicising the arbitration service of the Adjudicator's Office, which is free to taxpayers. If you do have an unresolved complaint against the Revenue, in the first instance you should refer it to a more senior official. If you are still not satisfied, or if you would like the Adjudicator's Office to handle this referral, it can be contacted on 0171 930 2565 ( Last year Ms Filkin got the Revenue to pay out pounds 97,000 in compensation in 148 cases, aside from any reductions in tax bills.

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