PLEASE DON’T CALL ME A CUSTOMER

It’s not often I’m moved to blog in the middle of cooking and serving breakfast for seven; it’s not often I’m moved to blog at all these days except on my church/village website. But an item on the Today programme catches my attention. A Labour MP is complaining that cuts have affected the Inland Revenue to such an extent that they are no longer able to provide a personal service, whereby an officer from HMRC sits down with a ‘customer’ to discuss his/her tax affairs face-to-face. No: instead, they are having to resort to inviting us all to telephone or write – and guess what? They don’t have the the time or resources to answer either our letters or our ‘phone calls.  The result? Morale is at rock bottom at HMRC because they can no longer offer a personalised, sympathetic service. But we’ll all be pleased to hear from a spokesman for the beleaguered Revenue that they are continuing to do all they can to improve the service for the benefit of their customers.
My memories of sitting down with a friendly taxman – sorry, person – are somewhat outweighed (I wonder why?) by those of receiving a stream of incomprehensible letters and demands, crying, and then deciding after the fifth unanswered telephone call that it’s easier just to write a cheque. This is one reason I have no money. And also why they ended up owing me more than £3,000.
I have no problem with the concept of income tax, no illusions that the people who work for HMRC are anything other than real people with grannies and children and spouses, working within a totally dysfunctional system. All of this I can live with. No – what really drives me up the wall is that they have the bress neck to call us customers.
Customers have choice. Customers, having decided the service they receive is rubbish, can go elsewhere and find better service (if they’re lucky).  John Lewis has customers. Sainsbury’s and Tesco and Argos have customers. Habitat had customers who voted with their feet and went to IKEA. Rail companies think – wrongly – that they have customers; they don’t. They have passengers with little choice of rail operators to take them from A to B: though even with the railways there’s a modicum of choice – we can go by car or bus or stay at home.
But with the Inland Revenue we have no choice. The last communication I received from them threatened me with prison if my tax form was late which it actually never is. They didn’t mention the little detail that they’d over-charged me over three years by £3,500 and – five months, several telephone calls and numerous letters later – they still hadn’t paid up.
And yes, I did eventually complain, about three months ago. I’m still waiting for the reply. Meanwhile I am weeping into my tea knowing how distraught their customer relations team (I wonder how many are in that?) must be that one of their most valued captives – sorry, customers – is not entirely happy with that oh-so-personal service they used to offer. Before the cuts, of course.

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