There's some complete gibberish in The Times today. They note that according to the National Audit Office 1 million people are incorrectly taxed in the UK as a result of HMRC error. Between them they pay £157 million too much and underpay by £125 million. Assuming equal numbers of over and underpayments that's an average overpayment of £314 and an average underpayment of £250.
In net terms that, on average is an error of just £32 per head (the £64 difference divided by two as the sample is doubled). Since the error rate is almost certainly normally distributed this is likely to be much closer to the truth, with some spectacular errors for a few - who should be employing an accountant or doing a tax return in that case.
I call this little short of a miracle. With about 31 million taxpayers according to HMRC stats only 3.2% calculations include an error, which is lower than normal fallibility rates, and with an average tax bill of £4,613 (£143 billion total income tax take divided by 31 million) the error rate is just £282 million in total or 0.19% of total tax, and just, on average 0.7% of the average tax bill. That's the sort of efficiency of which any organisation should be mega-proud. After all this means HMRC get income tax 99.81% right on this basis.
But we get comments like:
The Revenue's desire for greater powers, coming when it has been shown to be wrongly billing more than a million taxpayers, has triggered calls for individuals to be given more protection.
No doubt this was stimulated by a comment from John Whiting of PWC:
"We need a taxpayers' charter so that if people feel something is going wrong, there is a document that gives rights and responsibilities to them, as well as to the Revenue."
Apart from being a throw-back to the failed logic of John Major's government of 15 years ago, this represents an incorrect analysis of the situation. My own, above is vastly more accurate. And there is an existing right for anyone to get their tax put right anyway. There is nothing to stop anyone submitting a tax return.
I think we need a code of conduct for tax - and we'll be launching one this autumn of which I am principle author. But to say there's something seriously wrong with a tax system which has got PAYE quite so staggeringly right is absurd. And I'm happy to say so.