The taxman says it with flowers

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Published: Friday 2nd January 2015 by The News Editor

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As many people with a guilty conscience will testify, few things grease the wheels of forgiveness quite like a bouquet of flowers.

So it should not come as too much of a surprise that the taxman also makes floral arrangements his gift of choice as a goodwill gesture to business owners and members of the public inadvertently wronged by the customs calculator.

Figures released to the Press Association by HMRC show the taxman dispatched 106 publicly-funded bouquets as part of apologies to customers between January 1 2009 and July 1 2014, for reasons including making incorrect payment demands.

A spokesman said flowers “may have formed part of a wider financial redress package to customers”.

He said: ” When we let a customer down, we always apologise and put matters right.

“And occasionally, having considered the specific details of a customer’s complaint, we do send flowers, but only where we consider this is the most appropriate way of saying ‘sorry’.”

HMRC said it could not provide the cost of the flowers, but said it stuck to strict guidelines on spending public money.

Known recipients of such gestures include a cafe owner in Gorton, Greater Manchester, who was wrongly sent a tax bill for nearly £1 billion. Officials later agreed with recipient Florence Coke that the amount was incorrect, and dispatched a revised bill of £17,000 along with a bouquet of flowers.

Speaking last year, Ms Coke said: “When I realised it was nearly £1 billion I nearly fell over in the kitchen. I don’t even make a wage.”

HMRC deals with tens of millions of customers every year, a spokesman said, but added: “T hat is no mitigation for customers who do not receive the level of service they are entitled to expect from us.

“We need to make big improvements in the way we deal with people, because if one customer is not happy with the way we have treated them, it’s something we need to look at very carefully, to learn from our mistakes so we can improve our service for all.”

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance campaign group, said: ” The idea that flowers make up for the stress and worry that HMRC errors can cause is ludicrous.

“Rather than receiving crushed carnations in the post, taxpayers would prefer the taxman to simply get their maths right in the first place.

“The easiest way to reduce the number of bouquets sent out, of course, would be a radical reform of a tax code that’s so complex even HMRC number-crunchers can’t administer it properly.”

Published: Friday 2nd January 2015 by The News Editor

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