TAX demands had to be reduced by more than £45 million last year following errors made by Islanders completing their tax forms or by the government’s revenue officers processing them, a freedom of information request has revealed.
The vast majority involved taxpayers completing their returns wrongly but 450 were made by officers making mistakes when inputting data from tax forms, which resulted in £1.2m being wiped off demands last year.
Although the government said that mistakes made by officers were “usually” detected during quality reviews by line managers, it was unable to say how many of the 450 mistakes had been spotted in this way, and how many identified by members of the public who were forced to complain.
Earlier this year, the JEP reported the case of a student undertaking summer employment who was mistakenly sent a series of demands amounting to more than £40,000 which dated back to the time he was 11 years old.
States accounts for 2022 show that income tax receipts increased last year by £78m or 12% to £720m, so that the value of the revised demands constitutes some 6.2% of that total.
The overwhelming majority of the 5,220 “return amendment approvals” – as the revised demands are described by Revenue Jersey – were the result of so-called voluntary disclosures by taxpayers or taxpayer errors, typically a failure to claim allowances. These together amounted to 3,820 of the cases, while a further 950 were the result of “glitches” in the completion of tax forms, including entering information in the wrong box, Comptroller of Revenue, Richard Summersgill explained.
“What you often find is that when people get an assessment they have reason to think it might be wrong, and that can relate either to something they have not done in the tax return and, on some occasions, it can relate to something we’ve done wrong when we’ve been processing it.
“If there were a mistake on our side we would inform the taxpayer and reissue the assessment. Our systems gather as much management information as we need to manage the business.
“We do monitor the quality of our officers; that is one of the functions of line managers,” Mr Summersgill said.
On the basis of around 60,000 returned tax forms, the number of incorrect assessments caused by mistakes from revenue officers constitutes around 0.75% of the total or 1.5% of those completed manually since about half are completed online – something Mr Summersgill described as “not a very significant issue”.
Figures provided for the three previous years show a consistent reduction in such officer-input errors from 980 in the 2019 tax year.
“On the face of it, 450 officer-input errors out of perhaps 60,000 transactions – and each of those transactions is the whole of a tax return and all of the fields within a tax return – I wouldn’t say it gave me cause for alarm. Even in the finest companies in the world, operating to very high LEAN standards, there are margins of error.
“Particularly where a system does still involve a lot of human intervention, either by the taxpayer or by the revenue officer, occasionally mistakes will happen and the important thing is how we deal with them.
‘The vast majority are dealt with amicably,” he said.
Mr Summersgill recommended that all Islanders should check that their tax assessment was broadly what they expected it to be.
“I don’t think people have to slavishly check it all but it’s easy to do a rule of thumb test on whether you think your tax assessment is in the right ball park, and if it isn’t then perhaps give it a closer look,” he said.
“The one thing I don’t want to do is to encourage everyone just to seek a review of their tax assessment because the data here and elsewhere suggests that the vast majority of tax assessments are right and that, where they are wrong, it’s often down to taxpayer error,” he said.