Miles Kington: The great data scandal: a tax expert's advice to readers

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The Independent Online

This Inland Revenue business and those scandalously missing details – how will it affect us all personally? At very short notice, I have called in the highly respected tax expert Naughton Rock (no relation) to help tackle some of your individual cases.

Mrs Robinson, of Hull, writes: Dear Mr Rock, this morning I received a letter from the Inland Revenue saying that the tax rebate I was expecting of £434.90, and which they had promised me, had now been down-shifted to a sum of only £43.49. Along with this letter came two large discs which I assumed were some sort of explanatory or publicity material for the Inland Revenue. I tried playing them but could make neither head nor tail of the intricate detail (it was ever thus with the tax people and me!). What should I do?

N Rock says: Do not try to play the discs. If they are what I think they are, they might overload your system, not to mention get you in trouble with the Data Protection people. You should send these discs direct by registered post to a Mr A Darling in Whitehall in London (I enclose his private address).

Don't worry about the rebate. Whenever the Inland Revenue feels in trouble, it automatically reduces its rebates by moving the decimal point a bit. It's an instinctive defensive gesture, like getting the wagons in a ring. It always reverts after a short period of panic.

Mr N Seaton, of Devon, writes: I have received several emails purporting to come from my bank, asking me to confirm my banking details. But you'd think that if anyone had my banking details already, it would be my bank! Now, the Chancellor has asked us all to be very careful about such requests, so what should I do?

N Rock says: You are quite right to be cautious. Just to be on the safe side, I would return, not your own, but Alistair Darling's personal banking data to them. I enclose the relevant details.

Mrs Spellman, of Stoke, writes: I have received a request from the Inland Revenue to photocopy all my child benefit details and return them to them. They explain that, for reasons too complicated to go into, they do not have immediate access to them and they would be grateful if I would supply the missing facts. They further explain that it is quite a routine case – they are writing to 13 million other people in the same situation. They also wish me to supply, as proof of identity, my mother's maiden name, and I wondered if you happened to have Alistair Darling's mother's maiden name handy?

N Rock says: I certainly do. I enclose it. And the next!

Alistair Darling, of Swindon, writes: All my life I have suffered from my name. First of all because children at school thought it was hilarious that a boy should be called Darling, so I had lots of nicknames like Sweetheart. Then, because the wretched family in Peter Pan was called Darling, everyone called me Wendy. And for the past ten years I have had to suffer because of this lightweight, white-haired, easy-listening, low-maintenance Scottish politician who has risen through the ranks and become, first the man who couldn't fix the railways, and now the man who couldn't fix Northern Rock or the Inland Revenue.

N Rock says: I get your point. Do you have a specific problem?

Alistair Darling replies: Well, not really. I just wanted to share the pains of being Alistair Darling with someone else.

N Rock says: And I think I know just the person! His name is Alistair Darling, and he is having great personal trouble at the moment, through being unfairly expected to clear up the messy problems left by his predecessor, a Mr Gordon Brown.

I enclose his private email address. I am sure he would love to hear from you. I suspect that any communication from you will be dealt with more swiftly if you head it "With Sympathy From One Who Knows and Understands What It Is Like".

And I would keep it all on disc if I were you, just to be on the safe side.

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