Tax trials of the aged

Problems with draconian tax officials are not just reserved for football players and street traders. The tax office is checking up on people who are least likely to be able to cope with it - the elderly.

The Chartered Institute of Taxation says many old people are frightened of dealing with the Inland Revenue. "We could fill Wembley many times over with low-income pensioners being harassed by the Revenue," said John Andrews, chairman of the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group of the Chartered Institute of Taxation.

The introduction of self-assessment is one of the main problems: although it was never meant to apply to pensioners, thousands on low incomes receive the forms each year, leaving them frightened of the consequences.

The chartered institute has received many letters from distressed pensioners. "I become a nervous wreck trying to understand the self-assessment tax form," writes one from Brackley, Northamtonshire. "I do not pay tax as I have insufficient income. I've never paid tax since I retired. In fact I could go out to work and earn pounds 60 per week and still be a non-taxpayer. Still they send the form each year." His problems are not unique.

The Government is at last recognising that a problem exists. From next April people with income up to pounds 2,500 which is not taxed at source, but which is dealt with through the Pay As You Earn system, will no longer be asked fill in a tax return because of that income. "This change will cut down on red tape and bureaucracy," said Dawn Primarolo, the Paymaster General. "The Revenue is committed to improving all its procedures where necessary."

The Revenue estimates that more than 400,000 people will be taken out of self-assessment as a result of this initiative, including up to a quarter of those older people who receive a tax return. However, the chartered institute is critical of the Revenue's action. "Some weeks back we sent the Revenue examples of the poorest pensioners, those who are generally outside the payments system, asking for positive confirmation that they will not be sent tax returns next April. We still await a reply," said Mr Andrews.

The institute is critical of the Revenue's booklets and leaflets aimed at older people. It considers they lack coherence and appropriate coverage; are inconsistent; out of date, and unsuitable for those with disabilities. "What is needed is a single accurate publication in plain English that covers all the matters that frequently concern the elderly," said Mr Andrews.

While local tax offices will give guidance to any taxpayer - either in person or via a local rate helpline - these are not always accessible to the elderly. Even when they are, there is evidence that they are found to be both intimidating and also of limited use.

There are calls for a publicly-supported tax volunteer scheme similar to those in the United States and Canada to help elderly taxpayers. The Revenue is understood to be discussing this possibility around Whitehall. However, it has yet to announce any initiatives.

WHERE TO GO FOR HELP

Local Tax Office Helplines are listed in telephone directories under Inland Revenue - Tax Enquiry Centres.

The charity TaxAid will help those on low incomes who cannot afford to pay an accountant. It can be contacted on 0171-624-3768, Monday to Thursday from 10am until noon.

Citizens' Advice Bureaux across the country can offer a broad cross- section of help.

The charity Age Concern publishes a range of fact sheets on income tax. For copies contact its information line on 0800 009966.

Help the Aged charges pounds 75 for a qualified tax specialist to complete and return the forms to the Inland Revenue. To receive a free self assessment tax pack call 0800-056 5535.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine