Today I’m reporting on a snippet of recent news when HMRC admitted that over the past five years it has spent on average £10,000 a year on florists’ bills, to try and placate taxpayers who’ve been the subject of blunders by the taxman.
Sometimes a sincere apology or a nice card with a heartfelt note does the trick. HMRC, though, sends flowers when saying “sorry may not be enough”.
The news came about from a freedom of information request, which revealed that HMRC had rivalled Elton John’s floral bill, spending in the first nine months of the 2018/19 tax year, a whopping £10,298 on bouquets.
HMRC Florist Bill: When Sorry isn’t Enough
Explaining the florist bill, a HMRC spokesperson said we send flowers in instances where we consider that a simple ‘sorry’ is not enough and feel that a more personal gesture is necessary to put things right.
Missing correspondence, incorrect PAYE codes, inaccurate tax calculations, failure to make refunds and HMRC’s inadequate helpline are just some of the HMRC frustrations listed frequently on my accountancy forum AccountingWEB. However the HMRC spokesperson said that they only send flowers as an apology when its errors have affected vulnerable or recently bereaved people.
Examples of where flowers were sent included a pensioner who received a cheque from HMRC for £1, when in fact they were due a tax rebate of £1,800, a heavily pregnant mother-to-be who had HMRC bailiffs turn up on her doorstep, when she was due a refund and in another instance, a Stockport cafe owner got mistakenly handed a £1bn bill when she was also due a refund.
Some of HMRC’s past blunders have become infamous. In 2016, for example, a single mother’s tax credits stopped because HMRC thought she was in a relationship with somebody called Martin McColl after spotting that name on her bank statement – but it was the name of the corner shop where she collected her benefits.
HMRC Florist Bill: Monty Python-esque
HMRC’s personal gesture approach has not resulted in a flowering of plaudits from its critics. The Adam Smith Institute’s Sophie Jarvis described HMRC’s approach as Monty Python-esque and commented that she would expect a lot more than a bunch of flowers as an apology if she found herself at the wrong end of a major tax authority snafu.
The news of HMRC’s floral apology has resulted in a mini-avalanche of comments to newspapers, social media and various forums; so I’ve picked out a handful of them:
- “I’m surprised they haven’t spent a six figure sum, given their error rate.”
- “A sincere personal apology would be better than an insincere gift designed purely to get you off the hook”.
- “Last week my wife spent nearly four hours on the phone trying to get through to HMRC; during which time she was cut off six times and was still unable to resolve her simple query as to when she would receive her refund. Not only didn’t she get any flowers but didn’t even get an apology!”
- And finally; pensioner Alf Sidwell had a bouquet delivered addressed to his wife who had passed away the previous week. Unbelievably, the card attached to the bouquet said, “Dear Mrs Sidwell, sorry for the delay in you receiving your refund, we hope you get well soon.”
So even when HMRC are trying to be nice, they seem to have an uncanny ability to still cock things up: I really don’t believe I need to comment further!
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