Wednesday, 7 June 2017

A Tax Proposal by Bill Kirton


I’m reasonably intelligent. That’s not a boast. I managed to fool most of the people most of the time when I was a university lecturer. I got a PhD, wrote what were laughingly known as ‘learned’ articles, and talked about Sisyphus, Racine, Flaubert, Sartre and others with students who, probably out of politeness, rarely complained. So when, each year, I find myself reduced to baffled, tearful despair as I stare at my self-assessment tax return on the HM Gov screen, I wonder how those less fortunate than myself in terms of the educational levels they’ve been allowed to access manage to get beyond the bit where they ask for your name.

Some people have obviously worked hard designing the form(s) and their goal was, no doubt, to simplify it/them so that any idiot can dash off the answers in a matter of minutes. Well, this idiot can’t. Even though I can treat many, many sections as ‘Not Applicable’, those that remain mix and mingle incomings and outgoings in bewildering combinations so that I find myself going back to previous sections in order to change ‘No’ to ‘Yes’ (and vice versa). I used to pay an accountant to do it all but, since I was the one producing all the receipts, invoices, expenses, fees and the rest, and my income, after retirement, was significantly lower, I decided I might as well do it myself.

Which is fine when it comes to putting up a shelf or cleaning the car, but not if you’re having to work out the fine distinctions between income and legitimate (reimbursed) expenses, or the difference between class 1 and class 2 NICs. I’m pathetic. I have to send hurry-up emails (and even letters sometimes) to banks and insurance companies who seem unconcerned that morons such as me want to send off their tax returns as soon as possible after April 5th to minimise the possibility of a total mental breakdown.

Since yet another election is upon us. I’ve been looking for a party manifesto that includes a promise to create a branch of the Inland Revenue which caters for scriptophobia (which is apparently the closest psychologists can come to a posh name for ‘a fear of filling in forms’). Unfortunately, no party has been inspired to propose such a change, which demonstrates how unsuitable they all are for government.

It would solve so many problems because its function would be to accept whatever mental currency a taxpayer could offer to avoid scriptophobic tedium. A plumber, for example, would be able to ring them on April 6th and explain how to deal with kettling or pressure variations inside a central heating boiler. And I could give them a breakdown on existentialism, essentialism and the absurd, or maybe just chat about the parallels between Julien Sorel’s fate in Scarlet and Black and the crucifixion. It would take about half an hour and the bloke on the other end would say something like, ‘Right, Bill. This year you owe us £4,577 plus an extra £43.27 for failing to develop the significance of Camus’s affinities with Kierkegaard’.

The NHS and the education system would benefit from the consequent reduction in stress levels and increase in practical and theoretical learning, and everything would be strong and stable, instead of chaotic and coalesced.

14 comments:

Dipika Mukherjee said...

I have EXACTLY the same issues with tax forms. My sympathies.

julia jones said...

well said Bill! And I think you should be given several years exemption for all the times your posts have made me laugh

Andrew Crofts said...

Baffled by tax forms, baffled by technology, baffled by the nonsense talked at elections; thought becoming a writer would help me understand the world better - it hasn't.

Umberto Tosi said...

Thanks for the ironic insights into UK tax preparation from a literary POV. The same goes on the American side of the pond except for deadlines and acronyms. One consolation I've discovered: the older I get, the fewer figures I have to enter and the more windows I N/A or leave blank. Best of luck.

Chris Longmuir said...

I don't understand maths, I never query anything I'm charged, and I don't count any change I get following a purchase. I also warn anyone within hearing distance never to trust me with money, so I take the coward's way out and get an accountant to sort it for me.

Jan Needle said...

It could be worse, i'm afraid. My daughter became extremely ill with a heart condition about a year ago, and is now a total invalid. The one repeated mantra from all the dedicated NHS specialists who are treating her is DO NOT GET STRESSED. Apart from Bank of M and D she subsists on benefits. Her husband, who was a nurse for many years is now frantically retraining so that he can be a nurse again. We're desperate for nurses, right? So he has to pay for the retraining himself.

Couple of months back, her complicated benefits were changed to PIP in the middle of an appeal that she was making. Four days later, her benefits cheque did not arrive. One frantic phone call (she has two hungry children) elicited the information that no benefits are paid until an appeal is decided. How long? Who knows... She contacted her MP, the estimable Debbie Abrahams, who immediately started to help. Except that a couple of days later, because of Mrs May's snap election, MPs became ex-MPs for the duration. And anyway, the change from benefits to PIP is not automatic - you have to fill in all the forms again, and be reinterviewed if it's deemed necessary. No stress there, then. My daughter's GP told the DSS she could under no circumstances attend an interview. Okay, said the DSS - no money then. She went by taxi and wheelchair.

The staff at the local offices, incidentally, were almost as distraught as she was. Some of them live in a state of semi-constant disgust at the system that underpays them.

I could easily go on, but I won't. Just make sure you don't vote for Mrs May, please. And watch Jimmy McGovern's Broken of a Tuesday night. And talking of manifestos, how about a party not predicated on the idea of grinding its citizens to dust under the weight of incomprehensible, inhuman regulations presented as the new way forward, or - god spare the mark - good government?

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks all, but Jan, your comment puts it all into its true perspective. It's easy for me to sit back and make puny jokes about form-filling but the sort of realities your daughter and her family are facing are unacceptable. I'm sorry to hear of them and can only offer (forlorn?) hopes that more humanity will somehow be incorporated into our systems. As you say, though, it's difficult to imagine it happening under the present regime. We really do need to rediscover some basic values.

Dennis Hamley said...

Thank you, Bill, for this. How I empathise. Jan, I'm appalled by what has happened to your daughter. Yes, let us crush the Maybot and everything she stands for underfoot like an already dead beetle (I wish no harm to live ones). I'm afraid I'm coward enough to stick with my accountant even though my freelance earnings are now diddly squat. However, he has somehow engineered me rebates in the last two years. Surely he's not among the quietly creative ones?

Jan Needle said...

Sorry to have dropped it on you, Bill - I don't think I should have done but it just fell out. On a lighter note, my own self-assessment form is sitting beside me waiting to be done. To which my main reaction is fuck it!

Ann Turnbull said...

Thanks, Bill, and Jan. I've always done my own tax return and I thought perhaps I was the only person in the country who had usually done it by early June - good to know I'm not! It always seems to take an incredible amount of time and fuss despite being the short form and hardly any earnings.

Jan, don't apologise - we need to hear about how the system is failing people. I hope your daughter gets the help she needs and life gets easier for her. (And I always watch anything by Jimmy McGovern and Broken is surely one of his best. And I'm in a 'key marginal' so you know which way I'll be voting!)

JO said...

Oh good - I'm not the only person with a PhD who feels like a child unable to understand a word in a SATS test when faced with a tax return!

Cecilia Peartree said...

I didn't think anybody except my highly organised daughter-in-law, who happens to be a book-keeper by trade, filled in the form before Christmas, so this is a bit of a revelation. The thing with me is that the Christmas break is usually the longest I am stuck in the house not really wanting to go anywhere due to the various kinds of weather we get here, and eventually I get bored enough to do it.

Ann Turnbull said...

I have to do mine by September because I still do it on paper!

Reb MacRath said...

What Chris said. Exceptionally well done, Bill.