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This week's opinion: 17 December 2020

15 December 2020 / Andrew Hubbard
Issue: 4773 / Categories: Comment & Analysis
Sensitivity needed over tax debts

Debt can be terrifying. My parents’ generation regarded it as something shameful and the fear of getting into debt was a constant worry. Nowadays, with the rebranding of debt as credit, that fear might not be quite as intense, but it remains a difficult subject and one which has to be handled with sensitivity. So the recent reports of ‘heavy handed’ and ‘aggressive’ collection of tax debts are bound to raise concerns, in particular because it is private companies working on behalf of HMRC that are in the spotlight. 

I have always been uncomfortable about HMRC’s use of private debt collectors. It feels wrong, although I suppose what really matters is how debts are collected rather than who collects them. 

However, HMRC has made great strides in debt management. Not that long ago a search on HMRC’s website about payment problems would take you to pages about enforcement and distraint. Now the emphasis is more about dialogue and time-to-pay arrangements. It will be a pity if this progress is undermined by over-aggressive private sector debt collection.

There is a balance to be struck here. Taxes must be paid, and if I default on a payment that increases the burden on you. The pandemic has made the situation much more difficult and those who are really struggling need support. But I fear that there will be some who will use Covid-19 as an excuse not to pay amounts that they can afford. It is likely to be a long time before the true picture emerges. But let’s hope, especially at this time of year, HMRC errs on the side of sensitivity when it comes to tax debt.

If you do one thing...

Make sure you don’t leave wrapping your Christmas presents until the last minute.

Issue: 4773 / Categories: Comment & Analysis
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