Thursday, May 28, 2009

Telegraph letters page - the tax side of MPs' expenses

The MPs' expenses scandal is no laughing matter. I have written a number of pieces about the tax issues on the TaxBuzz blog.

But this blog is a place for laughs so here is a selection of some of the more amusing letters taken from The Telegraph's letter pages:

Cabinet members may not know how to complete a self-assessment tax form but they certainly know how to complete an expenses claim
- Pat Lamb, Exeter

Alistair Darling needs an accountant to ensure he pays the correct tax. Doesn't he know HMRC will do the calculation free of charge if the form is submitted by October 31?
- Dr Malclom Parsloe, Battle, East Sussex

John Wick, the whistleblower, should henceforth be known as 'Deep Moat'
- Robert Humm, Stamford. Lincolnshire

The word 'professional' claimed by some politicians is, after all, only a synonym for 'mercenary'
- Rev Philip Foster. Hemmingford Abbots, Cambridgeshire

If Alistair Darling and his colleagues are unable to complete their tax returns without employing professional help, then either the tax returns are too complicated or Cabinet members are too simple.
- Trevor Mudd, Addlestone, Surrey

If Mr Darling did his own tax return he might appreciate what a shambolic system he presides over.
- Stuart Derwent, Brighton, East Sussex

How is it that Mr Darling, whose income must be twice mine, only pays his accountant half what I have to?
- A R Fontes, Wrexham, Clwyd

Having learned that they employ accountants to help them complete their tax returns, I suppose the next thing we shall learn is that Cabinet ministers claim back their tax bill on expenses. Or haven't they thought of that wheeze?
- Roger Hoare, Salisbury, Wiltshire

When the bin tax is introduced will MPs be able to claim it on expenses too?
- David Monk, Rainford, Merseyside

Some years ago I had a bumper stick on my car which read "Don't steal - the Government hates competition". Was I before my time?
- Andy Hawkins, Brie-sous-Mortagne, France

I note that MPs caught out in the investigation of their allowances, and who will be spending more time with their families following the next election, will be eligible for £37,281 as a "winding up allowance". Is this a pun?
- Ruth Rees, Cowbridge, South Glamorgan

I hope the man advising so many ministers on tax has liability insurance.
- Mac Fearnehough, Dronfield, Derbyshire

Surely, it is a historic moment when the taxman becomes more popular than the politician.
- Juliet Henderson, South Warnborough, Hampshire

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ways that accountants could Go Boldly....

In honour of the new Star Trek film, Michael Cohn has been thinking about how accounting firms could become more like characters from the film franchise. His ten suggestions are:


1. Find a weird hand signal that means either, “Live long and prosper,” or “My hand feels cramped from typing all these numbers into an Excel spreadsheet.”

2. Take the firm up to warp factor five, or the speed you generally go about a week before January 31.

3. Raise the deflector shields, especially if HMRC contacts your clients about an investigation.

4. Try the Vulcan mind meld when you can’t understand what your client is trying to tell you about why his children should be counted as a business expense.

5. Appoint a skilled liaison to deal with the Romulans, also known as HMRC.

6. Have Scotty beam you up to the bridge whenever your flight gets delayed and you need to get back to the office right away.

7. Say, “That’s highly illogical,” whenever an inspector challenges one of your client’s deductions.

8. Establish a work/life balance between fighting aliens and making out with scantily clad Venusians.

9. Set your phaser gun on stun when someone complains too much about getting a low tax refund.

10. Tell the managing partner, “I canna do it, Captain, I can’t defy the laws of physics,” if he asks you to prepare more than five tax returns a day.

With due credit to Michael Cohn, Editor-in-Chief, WebCPA (I've simply Anglicised his wonderful list)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

That naughty Emily Maitlis....

Emily was the guest presenter at last week's Taxation awards ceremony at the London Hilton on Park Lane.

She explained that earlier in the day she had been sitting in her room running through her script and practicing (good move). When room service arrived she had been repeating all of the award titles and was embarrassed to realise that some sounded as though she wasn't saying 'tax', but 'sex'.

Her timing was perfect later as she paused momentarily when announcing certain awards. Some of the best were:
  • Best international ...tax team = Best international sex team
  • Best general ...tax team = Best general sex team
  • Best in house ....tax team = Best in house sex team
  • Best ...tax investigations team = Best sex investigations team
  • Best 'big four' ...tax team = Best Big four sex team
And the two others where she made some other relevant comment put us in mind of
  • Sex writer of the year and
  • Sex personality of the year
This twist gave all 600 or so attendees a unique perspective on the awards!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Death and Taxes

Most people (in the UK anyway) who hear these two words together think of Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) who is usually credited with saying:
"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."
This was apparently written in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789, which was re-printed in The Works of Benjamin Franklin, 1817.

Before that however Daniel Defoe used a similar phrase in The Political History of the Devil, 1726:
"Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed."
And much more recently Margaret Mitchell says the following in her book Gone With the Wind, 1936:
"Death, taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Beatles' Taxpayer - reworked to cover MP expenses

Written and performed by Ayd Instone
Click his name to hear him perform this in the style of the Beatles.

Let me tell you how it will be
With expenses claims on what seems right to me

Paid by the taxpayer! Yeah by the taxpayer!

I'll furnish my second home for free
Cos after all I'm your MP

And you're the taxpayer! Yeah you're the taxpayer

If I have a castle you'll pay for my moat
If I fancy sailing you'll pay for my boat
If you question me I'll sit and gloat
I'll claim every penny, every shilling and groat

From you the taxpayer!

Don't ask me if it's within the rules (Ah ah Mr Cameron)
For years we've treated you all as fools (Ah ah Mr Brown)
And you're the taxpayer!Yeah you're the taxpayer!

My advice to those who moan
Taxpayer!
Repay the mortgage on my non-existent loan
Taxpayer!

And you're the taxpayer! Yeah you're the taxpayer!
And you're working for no-one but me

(I think George would have appreciated the sentiment)


With due credit and thanks to Ayd Instone for permission to post this here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tax planning and human interest

A tax adviser confided in me recently that one reason she enjoyed her work was the human interest side of things. By way of example she told me of the new client who explained his existing trust structure. It had been set up for his future illegitimate children.

Apparently he considered it likely that at some stage in the future he would father children who would be illegitimate and he considered tax planning for this eventuality to be a priority!

What's the strangest form of tax planning you've ever considered?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The inadequacy of MPs approach to sorting it all out

Ok - I know MPs and their expenses aren't directly 'accountancy' related but there are connections.
And of my 3 blogs this was the only one on which I could even vaguely justify posting this insightful comment by Mark Thomas in the Guardian:
When benefit cheats get caught working and signing on, they get punished. They don't form a committee made up of other benefit claimants to debate how they might make new rules to prevent themselves from doing it again. They certainly don't appear on BBC News barking that "they work extremely hard and made a simple mistake."

Nor can an exposed tax dodger offer to pay back money because they are "concerned about how it looks to the outside world", and then walk away with no repercussion.

HMRC's new slogan revealed

Maybe it should be the subtitle of the new HMRC Taxpayer's Charter?

It's just a suggestion I spotted recently and noted that it's appeared in various places. Seemed a worthy contender for inclusion on this blog.

How would you feel if HMRC adopted this then?
"We've got what it takes to take what you've got"

(The draft Charter already states that they intend to "relentlessly pursue those who bend or break the rules". I've already shared my views about this on the Tax Buzz blog in a piece titled: How far can you bend the rules?)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Were the Owl and the Pussycat trying to evade taxes?

A simple analysis suggests that this Edward Lear poem is all about tax avoidance.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea [going offshore obviously]
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money, [evidently cash]
Wrapped up in a five pound note. [money laundering perhaps?]


Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows [obviously a tax haven]


The big clue is in that penultimate line. Leaving the UK for a year and a day is the minimum period of absence required to ensure that they secured non-resident status under the rules then in place.

The above analysis was offered by Andrew Hubbard, newly installed President of CIOT, after the Chartered Tax Advisers' address last night on the anniversary of Edward Lear's birthday.

Friday, May 08, 2009

What does BN stand for?

On Budget Night last month 93 BN's were issued by HMRC. It seems that most people assume that the BN annotation probably stands for 'Budget Note'. But are there more descriptive explanations?

Suggestions to date include:
  • BaNal article
  • Boring Note
  • Barmy Notice
  • Bloody Nuisance
If you have better suggestions please add them as comments on this post.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Accountants enjoy more sex than other workers

This is one of the highlights from a survey published a few years back. I came across it again recently and thought it worthy of recording on this blog for posterity.

The image of the dull, grey accountant was shattered by a survey in 2002 that claimed to have evidence that they are more interesting and adventurous than other people.

According to the Daily Telegraph's report, Accountants are more likely to socialise, they watch less television and enjoy more sex. This was the conclusion of a "monotony monitor" aimed at exposing those whose life was more rut race than rat race. Apparently accountants watched less than an hour's television in two weeks. They had sex an average of six times in a fortnight, compared with the average three, and most played some kind of sport.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Tax tweets that raise a smile

Seems such a waste not to record these for posterity:

I once got a letter from the Inland Revenue asking me what my address was
@hmmmm_tea

called the inland revenue, 10 minutes of recorded announcements how I shouldn't call them because they have a website
@WebFreelancer

Having to speak to Inland Revenue today.... I will be washing my mouth out with tepid salt water immediately afterwards to avoid infection.
@brainopops

Just cost Revenue & Customs £45k by signing 600 Inland Revenue cheques for clients in time to get their £75 incentive. Satisfying work.
@rich_w

Inland Revenue - stop telling me to go to your website, I went there, it sucked and didn't tell me anything I needed to know, answer my call!
@TrillianNext

cold sweat. If one just gives ALL income straight to the Inland revenue when getting payed maybe then we'll be off the hook
@jonnalee

Wondering when, sweet lord, just when will the UK's inland revenue stop asking me for a tax return? Been gone from the UK for years now...
@csdot

I heard on the radio a couple of weeks ago that HMRC routinely ignore letters, fail to log calls etc. So I'm going to ignore them.
@snorestore

If you're curious about twitter - here's my take.

Friday, May 01, 2009

International Hug week - Hug your accountant

Not sure I should admit to what follows. Like most people I guess I was unaware of International hug week - which starts today 1 May 2009. Then my PR lady drafted a press release for a seminar I'm running later in the month for non-accountants. The headline is:
Hug your Accountant and see your business soar

Perhaps giving your Accountant a hug during 'International Hug Week' may not be the best way to gain business referrals, but the return of a popular business seminar could show you exactly how to build successful relationships with local accountants that could generate literally hundreds of referrals.
My PR lady tells me that International Hug Week was started in Burnley, England by Debra Brown in 2008. The London Evening Standard is amongst those that have recognised it this year.