No, we haven't been watching Yes, Minister DVDs again. I have been trying to file our UK tax returns. A weekend of tax returns and these are the three things I have gained:
1. An intimate understanding of Sir Humphrey's mind
2. A light bulb moment when you finally realize how is it that this island ended up ruling the world and
3. An appreciation of American disdain for any form that has more than 5.5 boxes to fill
It all started innocently enough.
"We have to file these tax return things"
"We have to or you have to?"
"Separate forms but both of us have to"
"Inland Revenue doesn't send me love letters every other day. I don't have to fill anything"
"That's what they do na. Every day there's a letter for Dr Bill. I haven't received anything from them"
"You haven't received that self assessment form that everyone has to fill?"
"No. So I think I don't have to file a return"
"And yet you make more than double I make"
"This country is vague that way"
"That doesn't sound right. Randomly they sent me so many letters asking me not to feel daunted. The tax returns are fun etc. etc. I think we both have to file"
"I told you - they just love you. And anyway, if you are so sure we both have to file, why don't you be useful for once and do the returns? I will give you my P60 and stuff"
"Okay, okay, how difficult can it be? 1040EZ in the US was an hour's work. Let us see, the key dates are 30 Sep 2007, 30 Dec 2007, 31 Jan 2008,..."
"Oh so it's not like we have to fill it now"
"They tell us exactly in paragraph 2.1, subsection a. ...
If you fill in a paper tax return, you must get it to us by 30 Sep 2007 if you want us to calculate your tax, collect tax through PAYE tax code, if possible, where you owe less than 2000 Pounds (If we receive your paper tax return before 30 Sep and process it before 30 December, we will still try to collect tax through your tax code. If your kitten dies before 30 November, you are allowed 17.2 extra days).
Uh, can you hand me the laptop so I can draw a flowchart?"
"Here it is. Just file it now and forget the other dates"
"Ok, here goes. Answer the questions 1.1 to 1.21, except 1.19..."
"That seems easy, 20 questions, look up a tax table, and you are done"
"... to find out if you are a resident.
Q 1, what date did you come in (only if before Apr 5 but not before 30 Sep)
Q2. Calculate the number of hours from entry in active employment (please do not count minutes spent travelling (round to the nearest half second)) .
Q3. Subtract the number of minutes in question 2.1 above from the sine of theta, where theta is two times your monthly salary expressed in radians."
"See, I told you this is made for you. I think I am going to cook now. If you are done by the time I am done, I will give you some Malabar fish curry. Ta ta"
"Wait, I can't work on this new-fangled Excel of yours. Give me my laptop with Linux and Perl"
"Okay, here it is. You can file the tax return in Perl"
"Notes for non-residents. Broadly you are a resident of the UK if you spend at least half of a tax year here, or regularly spend at least a quarter of each tax year here. Your precise position will depend on your particular circumstances, and the notes should be read accordingly. The notes will help you decide whether or not you should complete your tax return on the basis that you are:
- Not resident in the UK
- Not ordinarily resident in the UK
- Not extraordinarily non-resident in the UK
- Entitled to split year treatment
- Not domiciled in the UK
- Not domiciled in the EU
- Not domiciled in the Commonwealth (Note: The USA does not belong to the Commonwealth, nor is it part of the European Union)
- Not an ordinary resident of the Milky Way
(Two hours later)
"Are you done? The food is ready."
"Yes I finished the resident form. We are apparently resident in the UK, and ordinarily resident for 2007, and domiciled in the Commonwealth, but not domiciled in the UK."
"Are we getting money back or not?"
"Don't be so American. There's only 12 more forms to fill, and then we can calculate our tax"
"Okay, why don't you fill up the forms. I have to meet some people after lunch, but I will come back and calculate our tax"
"Very clever, you get to look up a figure in the tax tables and I get to fill 13 forms, all designed by Sir Humphrey"
"Be thankful you don't have to complete those forms in triplicate. I'm off"
(six hours later)
"Hey, I am back. How did it go? Did you fill all the forms?"
"Oh, it got predictable after a while. Not so much challenge after all, at least after I solved that multivariate regression problem on page 22."
"If only that would guarantee a PhD! Anyway, I can look up the tables to calculate my tax"
"Oh yes, that is going to be real easy. Here, this forty-page booklet has all the information you will need to calculate your tax. I need some coffee, so see you in a bit"
"Yeah, but there are no tables in this booklet"
"Who said anything about there being a table? It has all the information. All 236 questions and 21 worksheets."
"All I am looking for is two numbers. You tell me a figure, I look it up to get the second figure. I write that, sign, and we are done"
"Not really. You take this thirteen forms, fill in the answers to the 236 questions, and you will get that figure. I have even underlined the relevant figures in the thirteen forms for you."
"Very funny. But didn't they say they will calculate your tax for you?"
"Yes, they will. But do you trust them to hand back your money? This is Sir Humphrey we are talking about here"
"Oh. How about we do this tomorrow? We can both do it together. That way we will finish real fast"
"I thought you said you are going to do this by yourself"
"Yeah but what if we do it wrong? You will have to double-check anyway. Why don't we do this together tomorrow?"
"Yeah yeah! I knew this."
Long time readers of this blog would have no doubt guessed what really happened in the morning. Madam had an urgent appointment and had to go away somewhere. I was stuck filling 236 questions.
"Hey, you done? Let's go out for lunch"
"Yeah. My tax was uncannily accurate, down to the hundredth of a pence. I don't owe them, they don't owe me."
"And what about mine?"
"Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (hereinafter referred to as HMRC) owe you a thousand and three pounds"
"What? Let's send this in today. Where do I need to sign?"
"There's just one problem. You need a Universal Tax Reference Number, but since they never sent you a form, you don't have one. You can't file this."
"Say that again?"
"Actually, by subsection 3a of Clause 31 of the Income Tax Act, 1988, as amended in 1995, 1996 and by Statutory Orders as appropriate, you aren't required to file a tax return if they don't send you one."
"Let me understand this. They don't owe you a penny, so they send you love letters every day asking you to file. I on the other hand am not required to file this, despite the fact, or perhaps because of the fact, that they owe me a thousand pounds?"
"I think that's accurate"
"I don't believe this! These fucking bastards should be sent to be a firing squad. Stealing my money!"
"Actually, firing squad as a method of permissible execution was outlawed in 1949. Anyway, the question is moot, since we no longer have the death penalty (it was abolished in 1998 and even before was never a punishment for theft), and furthermore, you will note that the Bastardy laws were repealed in 1931!"
"Enough, Sir Bernard!"