Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Instead of customers, why doesn't the taxman call us...?

Have you noticed the way that the taxman refers to you as a 'customer'?

I know it's grated with many taxpayers and accountants ever since the old Inland Revenue started to use this word some years back. Then they merged with HM Customs & Excise and the new HMRC still calls us 'customers'.

The argument they use is that they want to be able to use just one word when referring to all sectors of the public to whom they have a responsibility. That's both taxpayers and tax credit claimants.

The first alternative I come up with was 'stakeholders'. But that goes further than taxpayers and tax credit claimants.

I recently asked for further suggestions on Ecademy and received the following responses:
- Tax Liability Owner
- Victims
- Lemons (as in "squeeze them until the pips squeak")
- They can call us whatever they like as we're never allowed to argue with them anyway. So how about 'the disenfranchised majority'?
- We need to find someone involved in organised crime. There must be a common term for the people who pay a bit of squeeze for "protection".
- How about "Codees"? Anyone who deals with the tax authorities has to have a code, so that's the common element.
- I wonder how they refer to "customers" internally. Punters?
- I was going to say Victims - but, as that's already taken, how about "Mugs"?
- Suckers seem appropriate for both parties only the first party should have blood tagged in front;
- Cash cow?
- How do pickpockets name their victims?
- Users of HMRC's services
- Citizens [although companies aren't citizens and you don't have to be a citizen to be subject to UK tax]

Having thought about this further I've realised that 'taxpayers' isn't strictly accurate anyway. We have to file tax returns whether or not there is any tax to pay,

HMRC's February 2009 Consultation Document on a Charter perpetuates the idea of 'customers' although it's clear that this isn't an obvious or universal collective noun even within HMRC:
They say they will "test the Charter with staff, stakeholders and customers prior to the launch";
They "have held a deliberative[?] event with customers, representative bodies and staff";
As part of their previous engagement they provided an opportunity "for stakeholders" to provide written comments" and they received 42 responses from "representative bodies, businesses and individuals";
The Executive summary states that "a tax Charter could play an important role in ensuring that the tax system is understandable and accessible to all taxpayers";
Then, in Chapter one we're all "customers" again;
By the way I have yet to find anyone who likes being called a customer of HMRC. Equally none of the conventional dictionary definitions I have traced support the idea that it's an appropriate term.

On balance my preferred solution is to call us all:
The CBI - Companies, Businesses and Individuals.
But I guess that could get confusing.

So please share your views as comments on this blog:
a) do you like or loathe the way that HMRC use the word 'customers'?
b) do you have any suggested, workable and printable alternatives?


  1. Muggles - following on from 'mugs'
    Also refers to those who don't quite understand the tax magic.
    Could tax advisers be called wizards?

  2. Methinks that Becky knows I'm a member of The Magic Circle - I like those suggestions. Many thanks.

  3. We are "service users". Whether we think its a "good service" is neither here nor there. Tax credit claimants are service users (whether or not HMRC make a hash of it), those paying tax are using the services of HMRC to pay the Treasury, those who file returns and have no tax to pay nor credits to claim are provided with a means or service by which they make their returns. I think the term service encapsulates what users expect and what HMRC purports to provide.

  4. Nice one Phil.
    Makes perfect sense to me and is blindingly obvious with the benefit of hindsight!

  5. . (read fullstop)

    To explain I need to spell it out, why doesn't the taxman call us...

    Still gobbledegook?

    What I am trying to say is that they seem happier talking to the individual and have been known to refuse to contact the agent.

    And in one case their tax credits "spooks" department, as I openly refer to when talking to tax credits customer service group, refuse to take my call, give their name, telephone or email address, copy me in correspondence, phone me etc and - despite having sent the same information many times - spooks (or "complex 1" per their stamp as they call themselves)refuse to process my clients' claim even after nearly 2 years!

    And in case this discussion may be perceived as one sided in any way, it is perhaps appropriate to discuss what we should call them.

    On this point I usually end my futile conversations with words of praise including but not restricted to incompetent, intransigent, clandestine, unhelpful in the extreme, - I should stop there...

    For more detail on the tax credits department, forgive me for almost coining a new title "tax cretins department" see the following westminster hall debate to which I added my comment upon the deaf ears of the closed doors of parliament - see bottom of page at right

    Anyway, its Friday night..