It may have come to readers’ attention that I sometimes make negative comments about HMRC. Not, you understand, about the estimable individuals who work for that organisation, but rather the politicians responsible for systematically deskilling large parts of HMRC and making those remaining officers with hard-won skills and experience nigh-on impossible to get hold of, fobbing us off instead with call centre staff incapable of dealing with anything but the most basic of queries.

As a result one tends to foster those relationships made with senior HMRC personnel with tender loving care, as a point of access to HMRC with difficult or unusual cases. One such contact has been invaluable to this firm over the past couple of years. This reminds me of another past HMRC contact in happier days for the then Inland Revenue, and an anecdote that I have always treasured.

Graham, who I am sure is now retired, was an Inspector of Taxes in Oxford with whom I struck up a good relationship. When, in 1997, I was contemplating a move back to the North West, the Inland Revenue was advertising, and had been for some months, for 50 accountants to join them. As a believer in serendipity, I called Graham & asked who I needed to speak to at HMRC about the posts in question, and he gave me a name and a phone number of a colleague in Solihull.

I duly rang the guy in question, and within two minutes it became clear that what they wanted were accountants who did accounts, as opposed to accountants who did tax. Despite that, however, the very engaging HMRC officer kept me talking for about half an hour about various aspects of the tax system, the accountancy profession etc.

As the conversation finally wound down, and in the light of a growing suspicion in my mind, my final question was “How many accountants have you spoken to about these vacancies?”. “You’re the second” was the rather sad response.

By way of a surprise plot twist, I am now going to single out a particular department of HMRC for lavish praise. I submit many research and development tax relief claims for clients of this firm and of other accountants, which have always in the past been small company relief claims that have found their way to our local R & D office in Manchester. I have found them unfailingly helpful, quick to respond, courteous and generally a pleasure to deal with, and have not hesitated to tell anyone with whom I discussed the subject how wonderful they are.

However, I must now admit that in singling out Manchester R & D office for praise I have been unfair to the other offices around the country. Unusually, over the past year I have found myself pursuing a large company claim for a computer games company, which has entailed dealing with the Solent R & D and Pharma unit. And what a pleasure that has been.

By way of background information, the claim was rendered infinitely more complex to deal with than usual by the decision of the head office of the group concerned to close the entire department responsible for the R & D work in question, and to make redundant all of the staff involved in the relevant projects. Usually I would rely upon precisely such staff to field any technical questions from HMRC about the R & D undertaken, as I am not by any stretch of the imagination a technologist. That option was clearly not available in this case.

I informed the Solent R & D unit of this at an early stage, and they have since been unfailingly patient, understanding and reasonable (not to say generous) in dealing with me and the claim, in the absence of a fair amount of the information that they would usually expect to have to hand. This process culminated in a generous compromise solution which is more than fair to the client in view of the difficulties with which they have saddled themselves.

So lest it be said that I am always grumpy and negative, a fulsome word of praise for those who staff HMRC’s R & D units, on the basis of an experience that for my part has been wholly positive.

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