Sometimes HMRC is its worst own enemy. For an organisation which is always going to have an uphill struggle when it comes to positive PR it sometimes evinces an ability to shoot itself in the foot with reliability and accuracy of an internationally competitive quality.
Mr Styles was sent a tax return in June 2011. He was understandably confused that it told him that, although he had to submit the return by September, he was obliged to pay any tax by January 2010 (sic). When, after he had submitted the return timeously, HMRC wrote to him with a computation of the tax stating the “amount due by 11 November 2011” and he duly paid before 11 November, he rather rashly assumed that that would be the end of it. He was therefore surprised (as, we submit, most people would have been) to be invited to pay a late payment surcharge because he hadn’t paid the tax by 9 October. This was technically correct (the surcharge kicks in, in these circumstances, 3 months and 28 days after the issue of the return) but nary a whisper of that date had been communicated by HMRC to Mr Styles.
It all turned out right in the end: the right-minded and fair Sir Stephen Oliver QC allowed the appeal and set aside the surcharge. He could scarcely have ruled otherwise. But why should Mr Styles have been put to the worry, expense and inconvenience of the appeal at all? The individual within HMRC who considered all the facts and nonetheless thought it was appropriate to charge the penalty is in serious need of retraining or of finding another job better suited to his or her talents: a system which allows a tax return to state utter nonsense about something as important as when the tax must be paid needs to be changed. We (and Mr Styles) deserve better.