It is extremely easy to slag off a government department, especially one that has a hand in nearly everyone’s day-to-day life. But HM Revenue & Customs, responsible for taxation and keeping order in the world of work, truly are the most pathetic useless body of utter toss known to man.
I don’t earn very much money. In fact, I’ve often been disappointed that D-list celebrities haven’t performed a charity stunt of the kind you see on Children In Need to tide me over while I fritter away my student loan on premium bottles of Belgian cider. On the rare occasions I haul myself out of bed for an honest day’s work, I do so expecting to keep most of my earnings. I earn well below the £7,000 personal allowance which disqualifies you from income tax, so I’ve never given it a second’s thought.
Therefore, in April, when I received my first pay form of the tax year, I was traumatised to discover that over £70 had been taken in income tax by the government, presumably to bail out some more bankers.
I felt a surge of anger at the blatant money-grabbing of my precious little money. Most people want to pay less tax of course, but I don’t mind. I understand that things need to be paid for and that we can’t go around bombing African countries and maiming civilians without collecting money from the population first. I don’t have a problem with paying tax – if I earn enough. My latest pay form states that I have now paid £250 in income tax since April and that figure will only rise. A couple of solutions presented themselves: one, I could do a Bono and move to Holland, thus putting my tax affairs under the control of a shady solicitor’s firm and attracting criticism from tax campaigners and anyone with a conscience. Or two, I could call up the tax office.
I have a voice like a warthog with its knackers in a vice, so being an international musical icon like Bono is not an option. But the other solution required me to ring up authority, the thought of which turns my insides to stone.
I find it hard enough talking to people I know on the phone, what with the stagnant pauses, the overlapping conversation and the fact you never know if someone is joking because you can’t see their face. So ringing up some stranger to talk about my tax affairs is a marginally less inviting prospect than running naked in the streets singing that my sex is on fire.
Another grand dose of incompetency came with my finance application to the Student Loan Company, which wasn’t processed until three months after my course started. Whenever I rang up the hotline (a word which, correct me if I’m wrong, suggests urgency) I would be forced to listen to Classic FM for half an hour, before a Scottish bloke with an accent so strong I needed a translator introduced himself.
As we both failed to understand each other (I garble when nervous, until my words are onelongsentencewithoutaspace) for minutes on end, we stuttered and stalled repeatedly until the idea of getting through University without a penny to my name seemed like a fair deal if I could just put the phone down.
When I bought my bizarre tax situation to the attention of my boss, she said I should talk with the people working in the University’s payroll department. There I was told that my tax code was “0020T-C” which for the layman basically means “grab every penny off the bastard!”
I have been working on and off for about three years with various institutions and not once have I been charged tax. My only reductions have been for National Insurance, which I have contributed about £15 towards (my pension is looking rosy). Now I was being told by Jenny from payroll that I was “in the highest tax bracket I’ve ever seen for a student”.
Such a code would normally be associated with immigrants, who are placed on an emergency tax rate before they are settled and fully registered. Yet I’ve been working for three years, never once earning more than a couple of thousand pounds a year, and now I’m considered a risk! To be fair, I would pose a substantial risk to the taxman that set my code so low if we ever meet – in my spare time I often think of the torture I could put him through, often involving vats of cooking oil and sharp cutlery.
Because I am useless at saving, I am actually using my income tax as a savings account. In a few months time I will let the authorities know that they have been conning me out of house and home and I will have a nice little Christmas bonus.
Then again it may require a phone call, in which case they can keep their money.