The uninitiated have this strange opinion that accountants and accountancy are dull – personally I blame Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Well, actually for the most part it’s true, which is partly why I opted for the wild and wacky world of tax. Believe it or not, some funny things have actually happened to me during my career in tax. I’m was going to go for a top 10, but that was too ambitious, so I have included three things that happened to people in connection with tax but not to me personally.
The ones that involved me
- My Italian client from London was coming to Manchester for a meeting with the taxman. We had never met and I was picking him up from the airport. “How will I recognise you?” he asked. “That’s easy. I’m the tall blond ugly one with the glasses and the chin” I replied. “Oh yes,” he responded “I’ve seen your photo on the website”. Check out the Lanky picture (link) if you don’t believe us!
- The staff of a previous firm went out for the office Christmas drink on a Friday night, and one of the secretaries ended up accidentally (honestly) taking a glass from the Hogshead pub in Manchester, which she made the terrible mistake of giving to our marketing manager. The secretary then became the victim of an elaborate practical joke, which featured the marketing manager’s brother posing as an agent for the fictitious Hogshead Glass Recovery Service and pretending to trace the glass to the secretary’s filing cabinet (where it had been planted) using a microchip in the glass.
- I was negotiating with Customs & Excise in respect of zero-rating for residential accommodation built by a Women’s Institute college. Crucial to the argument was the definition of a student, so I quoted the dictionary definition, which supported our case. A senior Customs officer replied: “Whilst these people may be students in accordance with the dictionary definition, it is by no means clear they are students in the everyday meaning of the word”. Not surprisingly given argument of that quality, we won the case (twice).
- After a long argument by the taxman that certain shares had been overvalued for charity share gift relief purposes, HMRC wrote to us proposing a value about 25 times higher than the one we had originally submitted.
- In 1997, when I was considering moving back north from Oxford, the Inland Revenue launched a major recruiting drive, advertising for around 50 accountants. As I was clearly desperate, I spoke to my friend at Oxford tax office and found out who I needed to ring about the jobs, which had been advertised for around 6 to 8 weeks. When I called, it became clear within 2 minutes that they wanted ‘real’ accountants, not tax accountants, but he still kept me talking for about 45 minutes. In the end I asked how many people had applied. “You’re the second” he responded.
- In Oxford I had two clients who were adamant that they should be treated as self-employed, despite being directors of a company. Having told them until I was blue in the face that the Inland Revenue would never accept that, I finally got them to put their money where their mouths were and said I would ask for a status ruling for them from the company’s PAYE district.. After a long delay, back came the reply that they were indeed self-employed. Almost speechless with shock, I called the company’s corporation tax inspector and asked what I should do. After some research, he told me that the PAYE district had been embarrassed by the amount of time it had taken them to reply, and had thus ruled in the client’s favour, thereby helpfully making me look a complete idiot.
- My friend Andy at my old firm in Devon felt that a particular client bill looked a little high, so took a tip from solicitors down the ages and made reference in the bill to ”‘extensive telephone conversations”. Unfortunately his secretary, who he later married, so no hard feelings, typed this as “expensive telephone conversations”. Sadly Andy missed this while reading over, and even more sadly the client agreed!
And 3 that happened to other people
- Lester Piggott apparently paid the tax, interest and penalties on a concluded investigation into undisclosed foreign bank accounts with a cheque from another undisclosed foreign bank account. He deserved to get locked up for stupidity, I guess.
- A well-known tax lecturer left the Inland Revenue Shares Valuation Division for a job in the profession. Shortly after his arrival he was given on e of his own letters to reply to.
- A nervous young tax barrister was appearing in the Court of Chancery for the first time before a rather imposing senior judge. The barrister’s wife had just gone into hospital to have their first child, and the barrister needed to request an adjournment so he could attend. Shaking visibly, he rose and said “Your honour, my wife is about to conceive and I need to request an adjournment.” Looking quizzically at the barrister over his glasses, the judge replied “I think you mean give birth, but in either case I think you should be there.”