HMRC are proposing to issue a new taxpayers charter. It is a bit brief – barely representing more than bullet points. The bullet points do not even contain proper sentences – but maybe this will be changed in the final version. A taxpayers charter may be thought of as having little value to the relationship between HMRC and the taxpayer, and can be dismissed on those grounds. However, there is one point that does have a real value and was contained in the first taxpayers charter issued in 1986. That was a perfectly good document, which is equally valid today, and it’s a mystery why it was ever withdrawn. It contained a comforting passage that the staff of HMRC will at all times carry out their duties courteously, considerately and promptly. That might have been thought to be self-evident – but it was a fine thing to say, and I wonder why they do not continue to do so.

There was an express presumption of honesty on behalf of the taxpayer, and a new version is introduced into the latest proposed charter, as follows:

You can expect HMRC to treat you as honest, believing you are willing to pay what you owe, claiming only what you are entitled to, unless we have good reason to doubt you.

This is more helpful than it may seem. It is not unusual for HMRC to make enquiries that can be justified only on the grounds that the taxpayer has not told them the truth. To be able to challenge such enquiries, by asking them to provide details of the good reason they must have to doubt what the client has said, could be extremely helpful.

I cannot eke much more out of the proposed charter, and we can only regret that HMRC no longer regard it as important to say that they will be courteous and will have regard to the compliance costs of different taxpayers. One of the most helpful aspects of the original charter was that taxpayers could expect the Revenue to help them in every reasonable way to obtain their rights and to understand and meet their obligations under the tax laws. Maybe that always was taking their obligations a bit far – but it was very nice while it lasted.