Thursday, 23 August 2007

That famous British logic

I’ve written before about the palaver of telling the taxman how many peanuts I’ve earned in the past year. It’s the same thing every year: I earn four peanuts and I give him one. How difficult should it be?

Last year, I wasn’t busy in the summer (I’d just lost one of my main ‘clients’); I was busy wondering where the fourth peanut would be coming from. So preoccupied was I that I left it almost too late to fill in my tax return. The sky doesn’t fall in if you don’t do it by 30 September, but you have to calculate the amount of tax due yourself and send the taxman the correct moonay in January – on pain of death, of course. My situation is so simple that I wasn’t unduly worried about missing the deadline. Still, I'd rather let someone else make a mistake, so I sent it back in time by Signed For Recorded Delivery and breathed a sigh of relief. Well, what do you know, no one bothered to sign for it and it sat for ages in Newcastle, in a huge pile of tax returns.

Why Newcastle; don’t you live in Central London, I hear you wonder. Yes, I do, but the tax office that deals with my ‘financial affairs’ is in Newcastle, and it’s called, wait for it, ‘Cornwall and Plymouth Area’. But of course! My tax office used to be in Cornwall (it was ridiculous but at least the name corresponded with the location), but they moved it up north, last year, without telling any of us, so I had a terrible time trying to find out what had happened to my tax return. I attempted to track it with that nifty thing on the Royal Mail website, but it didn’t come up as having arrived anywhere. So, where was it? Was it in Cornwall, where I’d sent it, or was it in its new home in Newcastle? Those two places aren’t exactly next door to each other. After about a million phone calls, it was spotted safely ensconced in Newcastle: they’d been so snowed under with mail that they hadn’t had time to acknowledge receipt.

OK, then, so, this year, I decided to spare myself all that hassle and filled in my tax return well in advance of the deadline. I sent it back on 13 July, again by Signed For Recorded Delivery. Again I didn’t get an acknowledgment and again it didn’t appear on the Royal Mail website. In the end, last week, I thought I would find out, etc. etc. One person told me that it was possible it had arrived and that no one had signed for it or acknowledged it because it was sent back so early. Aaaaargh! You can’t win, can you?

Another thing you cannot do is speak to a person who is actually in the tax office where your file is. I have no fewer than six different telephone numbers for that one office, all of which take me to a call centre.

Why don’t I believe my tax return got lost in the post? Because, as I said, the same thing happened last year, and because I sent two other envelopes by Signed For Recorded Delivery on the same day – one to another address in the UK and one to France – and they both arrived at their destination within a few days. And because I just don’t believe these people. The only envelope I sent on 13 July that didn’t get there was the one addressed to the tax office? Yeah, right!

Since I don’t relish the thought of having to redo it all, I sent a letter to Newcastle a few days ago, by snail mail, asking them to please have a good look and let me know if my tax return was anywhere to be seen.

Have I had an answer to my letter? Did it even get to Newcastle? Is there anyone out there?



  1. what a nightmare

    we've taken to doing our returns online - although that of course leaves your vulnerable (theoretically at least) to losing what you're typed in if your pc crashes (hasn't happened to us yet - phew)

    p.s. when i lived in london, my allocated tax office was in cardiff - go figure!

  2. Oh, this puts me in mind of The Castle by Franz Kafka. You can see your goal. You know what the goal is. But you canNOT get there! Every path you take just becomes a path to nowhere.

    Sad. All government. Just sad. But even sadder would be NO government. *pulling hair out*

  3. UC, I had a look at the website: you have to wait seven days for a PIN to be sent to you. What are the chances I never receive it? LOL! Also, I believe you can't fill in some of the supplementary pages online, so I'd have to send them separately by post anyway. I've just printed an entire new Tax Return - almost 20 pages - in full colour. Who's gonna refund me for the paper and ink, eh?

    TLP, this country is becoming more preposterous by the minute. And everyone's always banging on about French red tape. Ha!

  4. I paid an amount outstanding through the internet, and got the reference number wrong. Oh, the fun I had sorting that out...
    (I work in Oxfordshire, live in Birmingham, my tax office is in Wales, and the payment office is in Newcastle, but for some reason the actual FACT of payment is recorded elsewhere. Two weeks after it was eventually sorted out I had a month delayed letter from Newcastle saying "why have you paid us money" and a note from Cardiff saying "you've overpaid.")

  5. How funny, S, I am this very instant filling in those pages I printed out yesterday. Lucky I made a note of every single amount, etc.

    I can imagine how tricky it must have been for you to sort it out. Please keep your fingers crossed for me. I can really do without this aggro.


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