Friday, March 13, 2009

HMRC Charter - asking young people what they think

It took a year to develop and everyone recognises that the output is simply a first draft. I'm referring to the 'new' HMRC Charter for which the consultation period ends on 12 May.

HMRC have created a specific 'Charter Consultation' area of their website and last week they launched 'Charterpelago' which is 'a new consultation game' aimed specifically at a 'younger audience'. Created by Delib this is the 'e-consultation' announced when the draft charter was issued last month.

In the context of their involvement with the 'youth engagement tool' Delib's own blog asks: "is there anyone who isn’t affected by the work of HMRC?" - er, yes. YOUNG PEOPLE!

Nevertheless, young people are told on the Charterpelago site that:
"Charterpelago has been created to allow you to tell HMRC what rules you think it should include in its customer charter - the rules HMRC and its customers (that's pretty much everyone) should follow when dealing with each other."
I'm unclear at which age group the Charterpelago is aimed. It looks like a kids game and it involves clicking and draging sentences from the draft charter onto a virtual PDA. This is after choosing the look of your PDA. Finally the 'young people' choose in which order they would like to see the statements.

Let me be clear. I'm all for teaching younger people more about their responsibilities to pay tax and the various roles that HMRC fulfills. But this e-consultation is a joke. And I'm not blaming Delib. I'm not sure I even blame HMRC - it was probably Government advisers that came up with the idea.

Why do I brand this concept a joke?

1 - The consultation element is limited to asking young people to choose which statements they would keep or discard and then to decide the sequence of these in the charter; There is no facility to suggest variations - perhaps because it's clear that young people are not in a position to comment more constructively, but that's not consistent with the idea of the e-consultation.

2 - There is no context for this consultation. Young people don't pay tax. Their experiences of HMRC are entirely determined by their family circumstances and what they see or hear on TV. Their parents may pay tax. Their family may receive tax credits. Parents may have been penalised for late paid tax or for overclaiming tax credits. They may have explained their situation to their children or they may simply have expressed their views of the 'taxman'. And I'm not aware of any positive role models on TV. The only other references that young people may have noted are all the adverts (on tv, on radio and in the press) with the misleading and irritating strap line: "Tax doesn't have to be taxing".

3 - There is no explanation as to what HMRC is, what it does, why it refers to customers, the fact that it deals with tax credits as well as tax payments, what a charter is, etc etc

4 - It's hard to see how responses to this e-consultation can possibly provide any valuable input to the real consultation process. Indeed I fear that 'votes' for which of the statements should remain in the final charter will be reported as part of the overall responses without making clear the context in which such 'votes' were provided.

5 - Any responses to this supposed e-consultation will no doubt be reported out of context and to trumpet the success of asking young people for their input.

A cynic might suggest that this was all about the next General Election when Labour will need all the help it can get and wants to make clear to first time voters that it's interested in their views. Of course most of them will not have taken part in this e-consultation. But they will pick up on the media reports that their views were sought and that they will be heard. And that this will influence their vote.

What do you think? [My apologies to those who know me. Reading this back I fear I may across as an angry old man - and you'll know that's pretty far away from my normal enthusiastic and positive persona]


  1. What a load of e-wank ! For those of us who are, regrettably, no longer young people and do pay our taxes, it is difficult not to resent our money going to pay for this dross. I suppose it keeps some otherwise unemployable policy twerps off the dole, but could not the money be better spent ?

  2. I'm not sure that Charterpelago is the e-consultation, or not the only one. There is a link on the charter consultation page where anyone can respond to the consultation online.

    What sort of example are HMRC setting when they have spelling mistakes in the text on Charterpelago?

    Tax has to be taxing, otherwise it would be called something else - maybe National Insurance? :-)