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Festive fun

13 December 2011 / Chris Williams
Issue: 4334 / Categories: Comment & Analysis
CHRIS WILLIAMS believes he has an unreasonable excuse for seasonal jollity


  • Santa suffers a CAT inspection.
  • What happened when Hartnett met Santa.
  • The taxman’s Christmas dinner menu.
  • Santa’s new abode.
  • Antler replacements.

Santa’s first call came back in October: ‘Come quick, I’m having a cat inspection!’

‘Don’t you mean VAT?’

‘No, cat, C, A, T, cat.’

I really didn’t fancy trekking all the way up to the North Pole twice this year, so was relieved when he told me he was in the UK, but disturbed when he told me to go to ‘a secret location’ where he was being held by the UK Borders Agency after being intercepted flying his sleigh over UK airspace carrying a load of kittens.

How was I to find it if it was a secret? Not very easily, apparently, because all the road numbers in the immediate area have been changed to stop people finding it: it couldn’t have been better hidden if they had built it in the middle of Milton Keynes.

Luckily for me it shared the site with the HMRC/Treasury joint research establishment which I’d visited before, so I had their special road atlas to guide me, A to Z21 of disguised renumeration.

I arrived to find Santa and a harassed public official surrounded by thousands of meowing moggies that she was trying to herd through a gate marked ‘pussport control’. She had been ordered to follow up on the large numbers of intercepted letters sent to Santa requesting a kitten for their respective grandchildren.

Apparently, some grandparents had got the idea that if the little darlings had a pet to keep them occupied, they would then be able to tuck into their favourite after-dinner drink undisturbed. Sadly for family harmony their protestations of ‘You can’t de-port me, I’ve got a cat’ went largely unheeded.

The more resourceful old folks pointed to HMRC guidance which gives official blessing to them drinking themselves into a stupor. It says ‘lack of awareness can be arranged’ at paragraph 45030 of the EIM (Elderly Inebriates Manual).

The officer explained, ‘we thought we smelled something fishy but it turned out that that was only because they’d all just been fed’.

The next thing we knew, we were joined by this HMRC CAT inspector investigating potential misuse of the LVCR. I was nonplussed (non-pussed?) ‘Low value …’

‘No, no, no,’ interrupted the taxman. ‘Large volume cat rendition. That’s why we ORCs, or officers rounding-up cats, are relentlessly pursuing red-coated fly-by-nights who seek to drive a sleigh and reindeer through our system, contrary to Sch 1 para 4587 of the Coach and Horses (Anti-Circumvention) Regulations.’

‘How many have you got there?’ I asked.

‘15,001, we think, but as my job is rounding up and it’s an official statistic, 16,000.’

I recognised the idea: ‘I see, it’s an initiative similar in concept to the USA’s OVDI, the offshoring vicious dogs initiative.’ I had heard about that: they were going to call it OVID but couldn’t find words to fit the acronym, so it metamorphosed.

We were spared further punishment when a representative from head office turned up and we were able to negotiate seriously.

He had been diverted from dealing with bankers’ bonuses and started by questioning the bags the kittens were being transported in, checking that Santa was using his own containers and that they hadn’t been used for dog treats.

We proved that they were the old man’s sacks (boneless) and he immediately lost interest, politely shook us both by the hand and ordered that Santa should be allowed to carry on unimpeded.

Varied career

The ORC was going to walk back to the station until I offered him a lift and we chatted about our work, in particular some of his more interesting cases.

He investigated Dracula but ran into a problem due to his status between life and death. He inherited the case when another department ruled that Dracula was technically undead, and therefore not their responsibility as they were the ex-bat unit, so a stakeholder had to deal with him.

Then he got into trouble for trying to promote an HMRC in-house scheme based on the argument that the government had removed so many EBT loopholes that the staff were entitled to tax-free compensation for loss of orifice.

As punishment he was put in charge of investigations into payments in loo and ordered to follow the paper trail. He refused to comment on the Bog case and started singing their team song:

‘If there’s something strange
And your bathroom floods
Who ya gonna call?
Ghost Plumbers!’

He spent a short time on the Liechtenstein disclosure facility and then had a Swiss role before being seconded to Brussels, where he got the cream of the jobs (he had been so well qualified he was a choux-in).

The job was a piece of cake, but all good things come to an end and he eventually had to leave his EC lair.

His next posting had been to target the Scottish restaurant trade. I said I’d heard of Indian, Italian etc. but never Scottish restaurants.

He reminded me that chicken tikka masala was supposedly invented in Glasgow and recounted one particularly memorable menu of exotic fusion dishes blending Scotland’s traditional oat cuisine with Indian and French traditions: chicken liver Partick Thistle for starters, a main coarse (sic) of Lamb rogan Jock with Mars bhaji for dessert, all washed down with a cheeky Vin de Lisme (Potage electrique).

I couldn’t help sympathising and telling him of my own woes, such as my new car: the garage is a client and I thought I’d get a discount but to make sure I insisted on an Itemised bill.

‘Utterly outrageous!’ I ranted.

The taxman agreed. ‘What were they thinking of? Rounding down the VAT indeed!’

Anyway, as he talked he let slip a little more than he should have, including that the Treasury is so pleased with the success of recent projects that HMRC are being prepared for agency status and rebranded as ‘TAXCO’ with the catchy slogan ‘very little help’.

He then told me more of his workaday woes. HMRC staff have been told that when travelling on business they must listen to a prescribed music list because they are not allowed to exercise their own disc ration.

Furthermore, they now always have to have the sound turned up to maximum punishment level. They had also been preparing to go on strike against unfair and oppressive working conditions, after a rumour went round that they were going to be forced to watch daytime television.

They were therefore doubly glad when senior officials issued a statement clarifying what they had really meant when they announced the good news that they’d got Cable.

But the crowning indignity came when they got to the annual taxman’s Christmas dinner. The Menu made interesting reading.

They had even had trouble getting home. Somebody suggested that they try hailing taxis, but after the fourth GM station wagon had come crashing down round their ears, even the landed estates specialists couldn’t cope, so they gave up and took the bus or walked. The event hadn’t been without its repercussions.

They had thought it unusual when the boss agreed to pay for the wines, which were modest but very quaffable. Less palatable was the copy P11D each one received the following June showing vin benefits of £500 each.

HMRC have also been encouraged to use their expertise in other ways by offering advice to the commercial sector.

They are working on a proposal to put to Mothercare to segregate customers and prevent conflict between those who disagree about allowing babies to suck their thumbs. HMRC suggested that the shops should be divided into dummies’ aisles and non-dummies’ aisles.

The taxman had also been helping deal with a hygiene programme in the arctic, installing proper toilets to replace the traditional arctic loo of two sticks: one to hang clothes on and the other to beat off the polar bears with.

He was very pleased with removing lots of loo-poles but concerned that the paper still gave a new meaning to ‘Arctic roll’.

Travel woes

Later, I caught the train to Santa’s abode. The UK’s latest transport project, planned to replace the old Heavy Santa (HS) line, and named Hyper Santa too, is now more than a twinkle in an engineer’s eye and has developed into a full-blown bulge in a planning lawyer’s wallet.

However, for now we make do with the same old service, sandwiches and excuses. The Virmin Pandemonio, capable of speeds up to 150 mph (metres per hold-up) except when caught behind a slow goods’ train from Rugby until Stafford, headed north to the familiar rattling of loose crockery and odd announcements:

‘This is the V-train, crossing the border
Don’t ask for food, the machine’s out of order …’
Rattles from the fittings,
Rattles from the floor,
Backache from the seats,
And the wi-fi’s poor.

‘Passengers are advised that we are experiencing an unexpected absence of delays. This is due to abnormal comprehensibility of information and clarity of loudspeaker systems.’

‘A consignment of the right kind of wrong kind of snow is expected shortly.’

‘This is an important, urgent announcement: if there is a bzzzzzz will they please bzzzzzz the train manager as soon as possible.’

We made good time until held up by elves on the line on the final approach to Saint Pun-crass where I was forced to catch the Far Northern Line to the furthest station, beyond both Watford and comprehension. There I transferred to the Laplands Night Railway.

New look

Getting off the train to the sounds of the automated announcement: ‘mind the GAAP’, I was taken aback by the grandiose style of the place. A mock-regency mansion seemed to have sprung up overnight and was impossible to ignore no matter how I tried.

I peered at the sign, ‘Downturn Shabby, home of the CIoT (Claus Institute of Toymaking) and the ICAEW (high street shop-owners organisation, It’s Christmas Almost Every Week). Santa had either seen me coming or been tipped off by one of the elves, so he greeted me at the gate.

‘What do you think of that then?’ I had to admit it was impressive but wondered how he had managed to obtain it when he was always pleading poverty and his accounts (prepared by Grimm Brothers and Hoffmann: Fairy valuations a speciality; no tale too tall) suggested he was broke.

Apparently one of the advantages of being a mythical person is that you have ready access to the Imaginary Money Fund that had helped him find a well from which flowed a magic stream, brimming with QCBs (questionable claus bonds) that he was able to sell, free of capital gains tax, to raise the money.

I was deeply suspicious, ‘Are you sure about this? I’m worried by a creek bearing gilts. But tell me: where did you get it from?’

‘It was just a bit of luck really, I met this chap who was down on his luck and needed to sell assets, and offered me the family pile. I told him that I wasn’t interested in a transplant but I would buy the ancestral home. His problem was that it was owned through an offshore company in an excluded property trust and he was afraid of getting clobbered for capital gains tax when he received the money. Luckily I had the answer to that: I am fond of a tipple and his problems had been brought on by drink so we rang the trustees up and arranged for them to sell the property to me later the same day, after we’d both got drunk.’

I recognised the trick straight away, it’s an old dodge but still occasionally useful: the exemption for transfers between souses.

‘Of course I had to remove it from its Liechtenstein foundations and now it stands on underpinnings recycled from old ledgers and unpaid bills. When HMRC asked, I told them I was moving over to an accounts basis. They were worried about me building on the snowfield but once I convinced them I had not exceeded my white space limit they went away.’

We entered through the grand hall which was so full of sculptures I had to warn him that he may have to get rid of them when the statuary residence test comes into law, but he seemed unconcerned, ‘I trust you to sort that out, dear boy. You’ve always been a magician when it comes to figures’. He turned to bark at one of the elves: ‘Is that new photocopier working yet?’

I looked at the machine which was of a type I’d never seen before: not many photocopiers are presented in a faux Regency style with an instruction pad headed ‘The Butler shall:’, but then I noticed the inevitable sticker on the side which read ‘Supplied by Julian Fellowes Office Equipment. Purveyors of stationery and other supplies to the gentry. Please do not try to order a guillotine as a counter-revolution may offend.’

I tried to explain but soon gave up as my attention was caught by a sign pointing to the ‘Animals section’.

‘What’s that about?’, I asked.

‘Oh, big business now, dear boy. There are a lot of people who find animals very useful these days, some of them in your line of business.’

He pointed to a large cage which seemed to boil with a tumbling, seething mass of black fur with the occasional flash of a white facial stripe.

‘We call this the Brockhouse. There are loads of businesses, which do not qualify as trading, interested in getting entrepreneurs’ relief. We sell these cuddly-looking but vicious little fellows to them. Most people use them for personal security but they can easily be trained in business as they’re naturally vicious, rapacious and utterly ruthless, a bit like timeshare salesmen but nicer.’

I looked again and the penny dropped, ‘Ah, yes, Brock-house: you’re trading in the badgers of trade.’

‘Yes and we’ve also got furry design consultants who style their hair to incorporate the customer’s logo.’

Next to the Brockhouse was a large aquarium full of very shy-looking fish (coy carp, since you don’t ask), each wearing a name badge ‘Benny’.

An elf was moving them to individual tanks, each containing a document purporting to give the occupier of the tank full legal title to a luxury yacht. The tanks were then collected by DHL (Dab Handling Ltd) and taken to the Bahamas. The elf was also preparing a mailshot headed: ‘Benny fish’ll own a ship transferred offshore tax free.’

I then bumped into an old friend, Santa’s own ORC, who looked as if he’d been dragged through a field full of cowpats.

‘I was investigating a research and development claim for breeding cattle that chew the cud an extra time to extract more goodness from it. I had to concede that claim but they are so top secret that they are kept hidden in a camouflaged hut.’

He raised a stinking arm and pointed at a scarcely visible hut. ‘Shed 7A contains disguised re-rumination. And as for you,’ he shouted at the cow-elf who was putting away his empty muck-spreader, ‘I said spread sheet! I’m off to get a shower.’

When he got back he started looking round the loading bay where there was a huge pile of bags, apparently filled with copies of HMRC and Treasury publications.

They were all addressed to the same bank and closer inspection revealed them to be bursting with cash.

‘We have to make the bankers’ bonus bags look as uninteresting as possible for security reasons, but also they’ve got to reach the bank in time for their Christmas party.’

‘So these are all just for one bank?’

‘Yes, these are just the Goldman sacks. And they’ve had two parties already this year. They have to be secure: we are very big on safe sacks, which is why we always use condocs.’

‘Not safe from me,’ gloated the ORC. ‘If that’s not disguised remuneration being paid via a third party I don’t know what is.’

I sympathised but had to butt in: ‘Ordinarily I’d agree with you, but I know that they’re covered by an agreement made at the highest level. I believe it’s called the Goldman handshake.’

He next turned his attention to Rudolph, paying particular attention to the deer’s personal library. He asked why Reindeer Enterprises Ltd was claiming a writedown on the library.

‘Look, Stephen Hawking, Iris Murdoch, Martin Amis: they’re all intellectual property,’ said Rudolph. ‘And if you’re going to take me to the First-deer Tribunal again, try to get my name right: it’s Reindeer, not Reindert.’

‘Yes,’ said the ORC, ‘but you forget that we’ve been successful with buck cases just recently. Now what’s that you’re doing?’

Rudolph sheds his antlers annually and as it was Christmas he would have been bareheaded if he hadn’t donned a handsome, and almost convincing set of false antlers.

Rudolph explained that his capital loss was inevitable but I had to ask: ‘Is that like men, and the only way to stop their hair falling out is to cut it off?’

‘Don’t go there! Anyway, these imported Chinese antlers are totally realistic and much lighter.’

‘And they’ve got more points on them,’ said Santa. ‘Which means he’s got a cap-it-all gain combined with foreign branch extensions! We even make money selling the used antlers in our shop.’

I asked why I hadn’t seen that in the accounts and they explained that they sold all their souvenirs in Tupperware. This dealt with the questions I had meant to raise about their use of patent boxes.

At that point Santa thanked us for coming but said he had to go to the betting shop as he liked an occasional flutter, but not before the taxman picked up a few anomalies on his P-elfin Ds.

Once again he had forgotten to return his sleigh as a benefit in kind, a carless inaccuracy he put down to having a chill due to mislaying his big red hat that usually covered his bald pate.

The taxman was in a benign mood and let him off with a hairless inaccuracy penalty before getting out his government-issue bike to cycle home, clutching his present from Santa, a DVD of Earmark le Douceur.

Nice to see that even HMRC are pedalling schemes these days. He said he felt lucky because the Treasury’s other plan had been to use hot-air balloons, but they were having trouble managing the inflation and had abandoned the idea on health and safety grounds because they couldn’t guarantee a soft landing.

Another visit over

Returning to the station I wanted to buy some sweets but got stuck behind a line of people waiting to stock up early on Easter chocolate.

Instead, I went next door to a bank where they will sell you a rail ticket and arrange the mortgage to pay for it in one go.

I booked to go via Blackpool where I got some of that town’s famous confectionery at a huge discount. It’s amazing how cheaply you can buy Northern rock these days.

When I got to the platform barrier I couldn’t get my ticket to fit into the machine as the opening was too narrow. Luckily, I had a nail file handy and trimmed the ticket to fit. I pushed it in, the barrier opened and I took a step through the gateway.

It was only when the ticket checker came round that I realised I was in trouble: ‘Sorry mate, you’ve got a penalty. In making your ticket fit the machine you’ve filed a paper return after the deadline. Not only that, it’s no longer in the authorised form so that’ll be £100 please.’

I had to appeal against the penalty all the way to the FTT (Flimsy Tales about Tickets) where I showed the pictures, taken on my STEP (Shiny Toys and Electronic Playthings) approved smart phone, of the people waiting in the chocolate shop. The judge decided I did have seasonable eggs-queues and let me off.

Returning home I found my accommodation inaccessible until I barged the door open against the pile of advertising leaflets for the EBT sale: ‘Furnish your settlement proposals now if you want to rest easy. Offer closes 31 December. Or maybe not. We’re not sure actually.’

Time to relax and turn on the … ‘Oh no, not again!’ Is there no escape from the Truman Show?

Chris Williams is currently receiving treatment for MRSA (moderation resistant silliness affliction). His defence is that no matter what he comes up with, real life still trumps him. Baker Tilly would like to distance themselves from these ravings but Taxation’s lawyers won’t let them


Issue: 4334 / Categories: Comment & Analysis
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