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Inland Revenue, PAYE, State Pension - Why are they hard to deal with?

This summer the Inland Revenue has declared a shutdown of its Tax helpline for the summer. The impact of this is , in my opinion, somewhat understated in Harriett Baldwin's words ,"There is clearly a lack of clarity over the impact this decision will have on taxpayers. This simply isn't good enough." Harriett Baldwin is chair of the Government's Treasury Committee and conservative MP for Worcestershire.

The closing of the helpline will mean that the only way to deal with the Inland Revenue will effectively be online or by letter. Now once it is set up, the Inland Revenue app and online, whilst not perfect, is not a bad service and for people that are able to use it it can be highly efficient. BUT - unless you have both a picture card driving licence and a passport it can be impossible to deal with the Inland Revenue online. This effectively excludes some of the most vulnerable people and, as I have seen first hand, can severely impact people's health and well being as issues expand out of all proportion.

I will start with my own experience dealing with my PAYE record. A little over three years ago I needed to access my PAYE record online - this I was able to do by answering questions relating to my passport details and my last pay slip to set up a secure "government gateway id" which I was then able to use to obtain the information I needed reasonably efficiently online. However, I went for a period of over six months without using this id and for "security reasons" it lapsed.

So in December 2022 I found myself needing to access my PAYE record again. Because I had not used the secure gateway created by the Inland Revenue for some time it had lapsed. I had a valid passport, but my driving licence was an old green paper one without a photo (remember them?). The log in process had changed, I knew this (as I will explain shortly) but thought I would try to set up the new secure gateway to the Inland Revenue.

If I had BOTH a photocard driving licence and a UK Passport the process would have been easy, but at the time I only had the old style driving licence and a current UK Passport. The online set up stated I could use my UK Passport combined with answering Credit Reference Agency questions to gain access to the service. I regard myself as highly organised so attempted this course of action. I was asked questions relating to my latest utility bills, which as I receive them all online was able to answer both quickly and accurately. But alas, despite having this information in front of me each of the three questions I answered incorrectly locking me out of the service! Now you would think that I could get around this by phoning the help line, but passed experience, which I will explain shortly, had taught me this would not be the case. The problem is that if you phone the Inland Revenue they id you with the same criteria using your UK passport and Photocard Driving Licence, if one of these is not available they revert to Credit Reference Agency questions - but the simple fact is that Credit Reference Agency data is often inaccurate and up to three months out of date. This makes "latest bill" questions futile.

This means that in the circumstances described the only alternative is to write letters, but good luck working out the correct address or department as this is NOT crystal clear and easy to find - and the Inland Revenue do not do email for security reasons. Now in my circumstances I had the advantage that I was about to move house this meant that I had to update my driving licence to the new address and this would have to be a photo card driving license. So I go online, and because I already have a valid UK passport this is a really easy process and within ten days I have my new photocard driving licence. Using this combined with my passport I was able to set up my secure Inland Revenue id and using this set up the app. However, to keep it working, as my wife was to find out, you have to enter the app at least once every three months!

Now for me these things are a minor inconvenience, but in the last year or so I have helped several people of various vulnerabilities, some with quite serious problems of which the Inland Revenue has added to them. In each case the ability to deal online has not been available due to them not having UK passports and photo driving licence and was further exasperated by them not being able to correctly answer Credit Reference Agency information. The only help has been the help line which, once you have been able to get through, has been manned by helpful staff that have guided them with information about who to write to and what they should say to help with this correspondence. Now this is to be closed for the summer!

This may not matter to those that make these decisions, but those that are being chased for tax payments the pressure can be huge. These experiences also relate to PAYE, National Insurance and State Pension - which the later is made more important as people have needed to understand what catch up payments of National Insurance need to be paid as these can only be made going forward for the last two years. I have had problems helping over twenty different people in various circumstances over the last 18 months.

The impact on vulnerable people, whether through age, disability, disadvantage, or any other circumstance is bad enough let alone those of us that are not vulnerable. I fully appreciate the need for security to access online systems, or even a telephone service, but it is meaningless as a service if its checks are so wildly inaccurate as to exclude use of that access and confine the user to post and snail mail only.

So if you don't have a UK Passport and a photocard driving license you may have some difficulty getting access to your Inland Revenue records. And this summer you are on your own with no helpline!

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