At some past event, an HMRC huddle seems to have resolved that taxpayers would respond more positively if referred to as “customers”.
Did anyone out there experience a warm glow the last time HMRC called you a customer?
Doesn’t the word customer imply an exchange of value based on a choice? What is it we get for the tax we pay, and do we have the freedom to choose what it is we are buying from HMRC?
Certainly, most economic theories assert that the tax collected pays for public services, and even modern monetary theory – that insists tax is a recovery of past government expenditure required to control employment levels and inflation – would aim to make a connection between tax and public expenditure. In neither case would the impact of tax be decided by personal choice. It would be levied and enforced by law.
On the gov.uk website, there is an About Us page that sets out HMRC’s description of itself. In part it says:
We are a high volume business; almost every UK individual and business is a direct customer of HMRC…
And follows with:
We aim to administer the tax system in the simplest customer focused and efficient way…
If you track down the origins of the “customer” label it seems to date back to 2016 when HMRC were slated by a House of Commons select committee for abysmal “customer service”.
This seems to have triggered the restyling of taxpayer – or beneficiary of tax credits – as customers.
Are we happy customers, are we content with the taxes we pay? HMRC must be the only “high-volume business” in the UK that has so many unhappy customers.