For a start, the letter dated 7 February comes in response to a written query dated 25 November which arrived in the tax offices on 28 November. Nothing unusual there - the workings of HMRC are glacial. The joyful tidings can be summarised in the opening of the second paragraph: I can confirm that you are still due to pay the amount as shown on the tax calculation that we sent you. They go on: You are obliged to obtain and retain all original documentary evidence of all allowances, reliefs, income, pay and tax, even if you are not required to complete a Tax Return, to allow you to check your liability and to allow you to inform HMRC of any income which has not been fully taxed.
I hope you're paying attention. I hope you're doing this - are you?
The letter goes on, in impenetrable jargon, to tell him that he was issued a notice of coding blah blah for the year 2009-10 in January 2009. It's the following sentence that seems particularly impenetrable "HMRC have checked with your pension provider, SPPA Finance and HMRC agree that no error was made for which action can be taken." Quite apart from the weak punctuation that arouses doubt as to what the writer is actually saying, it looks to this non-accounting mind as if what they are saying is "We made a boob; your pension provider took it as being correct; it's not their (SSPA's) fault - because "they acted with reasonable care, based on the information they held at the time." The letter goes on: "You were notified of this decision on 2 November 2011 and that decision stands. I reiterate that your pension provider is not to be held accountable for the liability notified because it is your liability and remains due ..."
The letter goes on to make it clear that all these codes with which HMRC issue us have intrinsic meanings and that it's our duty to understand these and check them. "It is your responsibility to check (these) and to check your liability and you would then have had knowledge of any errors occurring and then would have been able to inform HMRC." Eh? Let's clarify the actual situation here. We have someone who has not filled in a tax return since PAYE was introduced, someone whose salary was publicly known and who never worked in a private capacity to earn extra money, someone who, furthermore, has been retired and in receipt of the same pension for the past seven years - and suddenly HMRC decide to send him a new tax code and get it wrong and it's his responsibility to check it? What precisely are these tax people paid to do?
The nastiest paragraph states "... you were fully aware that your tax affairs were not in order (as you have stated that you know that the incorrect PAYE tax code was being operated when compared against the notice of coding P2 dated 16 January 2009, yet you did not act to try to correct the issue. The evidence you have sent confirms that you were aware, (sic) of the situation, (sic) but did not act." Seeing that a different coding has been applied and automatically knowing that it's a mistake are two different things, surely?
Given that figures and taxation are part of a foreign country into which I have recently had to travel because of consultancy work, I know that these people blunder - but had they not done so quite so blatantly at the end of last year when they sent me two different codings within a week and then took a chunk off my pension as a result, I would not have assumed this. (I did not, by the way, ever recoup any money lost in the month when I was waiting for the repayment of this chunk).
Seems to me that the operatives at HMRC get things wrong rather too often for comfort and then send out these missives of hectoring and patronising jargon which threaten rather than apologise and assure us that they will take the money and there's not a thing we can do to stop them. We are expected to have a grasp of their arcane procedures, be we musicians or poets - even though their letters are so badly written that they could well do with the blethers' course in Plain English. Do the rest of us get off with blunders on such a regular and harmful fashion? Doctors, maybe? Dentists? (ouch)
From now on until I pop my clogs, I'm going to phone HMRC every time a bit of official paper arrives chez blethers, be it a tax coding or an allowance. I'm going to query every last thing. Join me. They asked for it.