HC Deb 25 July 1972 vol 841 cc1518-21
14. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will arrange for local Inland Revenue departments to appoint tax advisory officers to deal with the queries of people who cannot afford the services of an accountant.

Mr. Nott

All Inland Revenue staff are instructed that they must assist the public by all reasonable means in fulfilling their obligations and obtaining their rights under the laws administered by the Department.

Mrs. Oppenheim

Is my hon. Friend aware that thousands of people, many of them elderly and on limited incomes, are paying more tax than they need because expert advice is not available to them and consequentially allowances and reliefs are not being offset in the most advantageous way against their income and that this problem has been exacerbated by the dispersal of local tax inspectorates so that most people are dealing with very remote offices and often with more than one? Will he therefore consider appointing a local advisory service for at least the first few months of each financial year?

Mr. Nott

On the last point, my hon. Friend the Chief Secretary announced in the House on 15th July this year that, following the report of the Working Party appointed to look into the whole question of inquiry facilities, the point which seems to concern my hon. Friend, the Inland Revenue would be pressing ahead with plans to set up a chain of local inquiry offices, particular emphasis being laid on Scotland and London. In fact, 50 such offices are already in operation. If my hon. Friend knows of any elderly people who are having difficulties with their tax assessments, I hope she will write to me giving specific examples. Local offices are always happy to help people when they go there. I hope that my hon. Friend will let me know of any specific cases where this is not being done.

Mr. Crawshaw

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, apart from the instances brought up by the hon. Lady the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim), hon. Members often have to deal with people who are enduring real hardship? People come out of work or reach retirement age and have income tax rebates due to them but a wall of silence seems to surround the hon. Gentleman's Department when it is asked about these matters. Is it not time that there was a Department, or at least one person in a Department, to deal with these cases of hardship, if nothing more, so that people can get their returns and rebates which, apparently, in many cases, they get only if they approach a Member of Parliament to take up the case for them?

Mr. Nott

It is best to get a system whereby individuals deal with their own local tax offices and their own local tax inspector. In Scotland, with Centre One, the position is rather different, and that is why we concentrate local enquiry offices in places of this sort. The Inland Revenue is under instruction to give every possible help in areas mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. If there are difficulties, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman writes to me and I shall see whether I can help.

Mr. Costain

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a local office at Folkestone and that elderly people there would very much appreciate the help they were given by it if he could persuade them that the tax inspector was really on their side? Can my hon. Friend do more to help them?

Mr. Nott

I shall pass on my hon. Friend's message. I am sure the Folkestone office does its best, but if my hon. Friend has examples of difficulties perhaps he will let me know.

Mr. Fred Evans

Will the hon. Gentleman not only consider suggestions from his side of the House about local offices but, in addition, understand that quite frequently every right hon. and hon. Member gets in his post bag cases of quite inordinate delays by the Inland Revenue, and that just as much hardship is caused through this kind of delay as by the remoteness of tax offices? Will the hon. Gentleman please press his Department to try to do something about this problem?

Mr. Nott

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I answer most of the Inland Revenue inquiries which come from Members of Parliament, and therefore I am conscious of the problems which he mentions. Generally speaking, although there are many inquiries through Members to the Treasury, I believe that the Inland Revenue carries out an extremely good job in difficult circumstances, and I think the House would agree generally that, in view of the vast number of tax payers, it is performing its task extremely well.

Dame Irene Ward

My hon. Friend has explained this in a very nice way, and I agree with some of what he said, but not all of it. As he is so interested in all this, why does not the Treasury accept the recommendations of the Parliamentary Commissioner? Is it not a fact that the Treasury fights some of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Commissioner? I often disagree with the views of the Treasury. The Parliamentary Commissioner, having gone into cases where there have been unnecessary delays and mistakes, recommends something to be done for these people, but the Treasury says "No". Will my hon. Friend please get on with doing what the Parliamentary Commissioner recommends?

Mr. Nott

I appreciate that this is a particular matter which interests my hon. Friend greatly. I do not think it was ever intended that the Parliamentary Commissioner's judgment should in every case take precedence over that of Ministers, but, generally speaking, obviously we take into account the views of the Parliamentary Commissioner, and I think my hon. Friend will find that in nearly every case—with one or two exceptions—his views have been accepted.