Diary: Government adviser urges the taxmen to overcharge us
One of David Cameron's most senior advisers has made a vain attempt to persuade tax officials to overcharge us all, on purpose, as a subtle way of making us happier about being taxed.
At first reading that may not make much sense, but the adviser in question runs Downing Street's "nudge unit", the people whose job it is to invent unusual and discreet ways to make us all change our behaviour. Some people think the unit is a hot house of sharp, innovative thinking whose combined brain power could save the government vast sums of money. Others suspect that it is a fount of silly gimmicks that appeal to the ad man in David Cameron.
Dr David Halpen, head of the Behavioural Insights Team (to give the nudge unit its correct name) who also used to be Tony Blair's chief strategy analyst, has observed that we hate it if the tax people come to us demanding money because they have made a mistake and undercharged us. Mistakes like that make people want to cheat on their next tax returns. But we love it if the Revenue gets it wrong, owns up, and we get a cheque through the post.
Therefore, HMRC should deliberately overcharge, and so that every taxpayer gets a nice title refund at the end of the year, Dr Halpern told a civil servants' conference this month. "When people get tax back from the HMRC, they feel great, so we're trying to persuade you guys that's what you should do," he urged. HMRC is not impressed. "We do not seek to collect more tax than is due from our customers," a spokesperson told the in-house Civil Service World.
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