Consumer: Officious taxmen get a reprimand

Taxpayers were made bankrupt or had their pay cut by two thirds in examples of bad work by government officials. Andrew Verity studies the withering findings of a report on incompetence among the people who collect our taxes and national insurance contributions.
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The Independent Online
Tax officials across the Government's operations came under ferocious attack yesterday from the body in charge of investigating complaints. Elizabeth Filkin, the official adjudicator of complaints, said that curt, abrasive officials were making their own mistakes much worse while progress in handling complaints was moving at a "snail's pace".

In one of the worst cases, Robert Herriot, a partner in a business called Herriot Turner, of Wiveliscombe, Somerset, was made bankrupt when solicitors acting for Customs and Excise pursued him to court over a VAT debt. But he had already agreed with Customs to repay the debt in installments.

When Mr Herriot applied successfully to have the bankruptcy annulled, he was forced to pay the official receiver's costs of pounds 2,400. Only when he took his complaint to the adjudicator did Customs agree to pay those costs.

Ms Filkin, the only independent body capable of investigating tax complaints outside the courts, yesterday delivered a litany of damning conclusions. She said the organisations were unwilling to acknowledge mistakes, and too often complaints were investigated poorly. She also accused them of being "overbearing" and of lacking the commitment to improve the service.

Singling out the Contributions Agency, which collects national insurance payments and comes under the aegis of the Department of Social Security, she said officials were breaching customer confidentiality and causing excessive delays. A staggering 80 per cent of complaints had been upheld. Damning criticism was also meted out to the Inland Revenue.