Me and the builder boyfriend are going to go without hot water

‘I’d like my money back please’ was what I was waiting to tell British Gas, if they ever stopped the deafening rock music of their recorded hold message to answer the phone. My account was £490 in credit, like it was a savings account. Only it wasn’t a savings account for me, and now energy prices are going up beyond all reason, I’m not going to be so relaxed about these matters. I want my 500 quid back. They have been over-estimating my usage for too long, despite me diligently giving them my meter readings. The £2,500 cap announced by the Prime Minister doesn’t mean a damn for me, because

Lewis Hamilton doesn’t need a knighthood

Given that I know about as much about Lewis Hamilton’s tax affairs as I do about Formula One motor racing it would be unwise for me to be churlish about his knighthood, announced in the New Year Honours list. For all I know, he could be making generous voluntary donations to HMRC. A few weeks ago, it was reported that his tax status was being vetted by the Palace, and it doesn’t appear to have prevented his name appearing on the honours list. Then again, it is hard to escape a suspicion that the big attraction for his decision to live in Monaco might just possibly have been the modesty

Isabel Hardman

Why are we handing gongs to people who are just doing their jobs?

Every year closes with ‘fury’ as the press reacts to yet another honour for a ‘mandarin’ who has been doing something they disagree with, and 2016 is no exception. This year’s villainous recipient of a gong is Sir Mark Lowcock, Permanent Secretary of the Department for International Development. Much of the anger directed as Lowcock’s gong is really frustration with the government’s policy on aid spending, which is that 0.7 per cent of national income is spent on development projects around the world every year. That’s not Lowcock’s decision, but something that the Coalition Government introduced and that this majority Conservative Government under David Cameron and then Theresa May has remained committed

The UK isn’t taking the risk of contact tracing fraud seriously

Experts have a get-out clause of which politicians can only dream when they are speaking from the podium at press briefings. While ministers are expected to be able to answer questions on any matter, there and then, and have details at their fingertips, advisors can escape most tricky questions with a simple few words: that’s outside my area of expertise. That makes it all the more baffling that when asked by journalists about the risk of fraudsters exploiting the government’s new track and trace system, not one, but two deputy chief medical officers decided to comment and belittle the risks involved. Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries was particularly sanguine.

We should salute the very rich who stay onshore and pay their taxes

Paying tax — which many of us have been doing this week before HMRC’s 31 January deadline — is a citizen’s duty, not an act of virtue. But for the very rich it is also a choice, since with the help of expensive advisers they can duck it or pay very little of it by using complex avoidance devices and offshore havens. So if they stay onshore and pay up, we should salute their good citizenship — if only to encourage others like them who might lighten the tax burden for the rest of us. In that context I was pleased to see two of this column’s controversial heroes of

Has HMRC done enough to solve the botched implementation of child benefit charges?

You’ve just had a baby. Life is upside down, but in a good way. A couple of months in, you are talking to your antenatal group and someone mentions child benefit. It’s not something you’d have thought you’d be eligible for, as you and your partner earn too much to get any benefits, as a rule. You go to the HMRC website, fill out the form and get a letter back. ‘I am writing to tell you that you are entitled to child benefit at £20.70 a week’, it begins. ‘Brill, that will pay for the nappies’, you think. So you take it and you are £1,076.40 a year to

Scammers are getting wiser – and we need to wise up too

Financial scams are big business in the UK. A report from Experian last year suggested that fraud could cost the UK economy as much as £193 billion a year – though these scams come in many shapes and sizes. Analysis from Which suggests there were around 264,000 reported cases of fraud last year. This, however, is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. Barely a week goes by without reports of a new scam, whether it’s sudden demands to pay for the use of WhatsApp, suspicious emails supposedly from our bank, or fake ticket-selling websites. And, of course, these stories are accompanied by all sorts of advice on how to

It’s gin o’clock for HMRC as Mother’s Ruin boosts the coffers

Not since the days of William Hogarth has Mother’s Ruin featured so prominently in the national consciousness. In the 21st century, gin is seriously big business as evidenced by the slew of pop-up bars and festivals devoted to this elixir of the gods as well as the number of bottles weighing down supermarket shelves. Just this week Sainbury’s launched two new gins aimed at connoisseurs while Lidl continues to sell inordinate amounts of its award-winning tipple. Now the juniper-flavoured favourite has reached another milestone. Figures from HM Revenue & Customs reveal that sales of gin have helped spirits overtake beer for the first time. The Treasury earned an extra £225

People paying the highest rate of tax now at record level

A record number of people are now paying the highest rate of tax thanks to wage inflation and the reduction in pensions tax relief. That’s according to figures from HM Revenue & Customs. While the proportion of people paying the 45 per cent additional rate is still small compared to the overall number of income tax payers (just 1.2 per cent), it is nonetheless a 10 per cent increase on the previous year. It also represents a 54 per cent rise since the tax band was introduced. HMRC says that, by the end of this financial year, an estimated 364,000 people will be paying the 45p rate of tax on income

Inheritances are under threat: don’t rely on a windfall to pay your debts

Are you banking on an inheritance to help pay off the mortgage, clear your credit card bills or prop up your pension plans? If so, you are not alone. A recent survey suggests the majority of people in the UK are optimistic about receiving a generous inheritance, with seven out of ten saying they expect to inherit their parents’ or grandparents’ home. The survey by – a company that puts people in touch with lawyers, accountants and financial advisers – found that six out of ten respondents said they expected to receive a future inheritance, and one in ten of them expected it to be large enough to fund a comfortable

The case for lowering taxes

There’s a saying that when you tax something, you get less of it. Sometimes, this is a good thing. The government taxes smoking, alcohol, and petrol partly because we think these things have costly side-effects—like pollution or burdening the NHS—that we want to discourage. But most of our taxes do not fall on activities with costly side-effects: they fall on things like working, travelling, and socialising. And because we have such a high tax burden—this year we’ll work for the chancellor for 154 days before we start working for ourselves on Tax Freedom Day, today—we almost certainly have less of those things. With lower taxes we’d be happier, and our

Chaos at HMRC leaves taxpayers out of pocket

Pity the taxman. As reviled professions go, it’s up there with estate agents, traffic wardens and, er, journalists. Now comes the news that more than three million people may have paid the wrong tax after chaos at HM Revenue & Customs left callers waiting for over an hour to speak to staff last year. In a stinging report, the National Audit Office said that the quality of service at HMRC ‘collapsed’ over an 18-month period between 2014 and 2015. Call waiting times tripled during that time, as some customers were kept on hold for up to an hour. One in five callers – 4.2 million people – hung up after waiting an average of

Death and taxes: HM Revenue & Customs can’t even get that right

Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs is unlikely to be your favourite government department. But you have to pity the poor bean counters. It can’t be fun spending all day sending brown envelopes across the country in the hope of collecting enough tax to save the Chancellor’s blushes on Budget day. But now the tax office has gone too far in its pursuit of our money. Last week it emerged that grieving families had been sent demands to pay tax on inherited pensions. You might think that sounds entirely reasonable – after all, we’ve all heard Benjamin Franklin’s famous adage that death and taxes are the only certain things in life. However, in this case the rule

The Spectator podcast: tax vs sex

To subscribe to The Spectator’s weekly podcast, for free, visit the iTunes store or follow us on SoundCloud. After the row over tax returns, are political scandals not what they used to be? Richard Littlejohn asks in his Spectator cover piece this week whether we’ve come a long way from the days of Christine Keeler and the Profumo Affair. Have we forgotten what a scandal is really about? Isabel Hardman is joined by Matthew Parris, author of Great Parliamentary Scandals, to discuss. As he puts it:- For quite a long time, sex was very delicious. I think we’re beginning to find tax and financial matters delicious too.’ Also on the Spectator podcast, Political Editor James

I confess it all… I’ve been dodging tax since the age of eight

As someone who still entertains hope of becoming a member of Parliament one day, I’d better come clean about my own tax affairs. It’s a torrid tale, as you’d expect, but rather than wait for my political opponents to winkle the story out of me bit by bit, I thought I’d get it all out in the open. I blame the Cub Scouts for starting me on the wrong path. As a boy of eight, I was an eager participant in bob-a-job week, which involved going from door to door on my street offering to do odd jobs. I turned all the money over to my Cub pack, but I

Martin Vander Weyer

Forget David Cameron – I want to know about Wayne Rooney’s tax return

While we’re on the subject of taxes, what about footballers? That’s a question often put up by bankers accused of being overpaid, but the comparison works as well with politicians. Cameron’s tenure at the top has coincided with that of Wayne Rooney, a role model for millions who is said to earn more in a week than the Prime Minister earns in a year: Cameron’s tax rate turns out to be 38 per cent, but what’s Wayne’s? More broadly, the annual wage bill for the Premier League is £1.9 billion. Two thirds of the players, including most of the highest paid, are foreign. A survey for 2013–14 found players earning an average

Today in audio: PM branded ‘dodgy Dave’ as tax row rumbles on

David Cameron has been defending himself in the Commons following the publication of his tax return. He said he found some of the comments about his father ‘deeply hurtful’. He also held his hands up for not responding to criticism sooner following last week’s Panama papers controversy: One of the more personal jibes thrown at him in the chamber came from Dennis Skinner, who branded the PM ‘dodgy Dave’ in a remark which got him booted out of the Commons: Jeremy Corbyn was more measured in his response to David Cameron, but he still used the debate to say there was ‘one rule for the super-rich and another for the

Tom Goodenough

Osborne and Corbyn publish their tax returns – but are they any more interesting than the PMs?

George Osborne and Jeremy Corbyn have now both followed in the Prime Minister’s footsteps by publishing details of their tax returns. As James Forsyth said on our Spectator podcast earlier today, it was just a matter of time before the Chancellor and Labour leader bowed down to pressure. But what do the two documents actually tell us? The simple answer is that Osborne and Corbyn’s tax returns make for even less interesting reading than David Cameron’s. Properly speaking, Osborne’s isn’t even a tax return at all but rather a summary of the main bits. It shows his earnings as Chancellor; it also appears to show that he isn’t putting any

Tom Goodenough

The Coffee House podcast: David Cameron’s tax headache

David Cameron has bowed down to pressure by publishing his tax return and now the Chancellor has done the same. But where will the calls for financial transparency end? And how did this issue blow up into such a big political row? Spectator editor Fraser Nelson joins Isabel Hardman and James Forsyth to talk about the Prime Minister’s tax headache. Speaking on the podcast, James Forsyth says the whole topic shows Downing Street is so fixated on Europe that it has taken an eye off the ball. He tells Fraser: ‘I think what is going on is this: Europe is totally and utterly distracting Downing Street from everything else. This


Has Jeremy Corbyn lost his tax return?

Oh dear. Although Jeremy Corbyn spent the best part of last week calling on David Cameron to publish his tax return, the Labour leader appears to be struggling to follow his own advice. Despite Corbyn promising to publish his tax return last Tuesday, the document is yet to see the light of day. Rather than a tax evasion conspiracy, it’s thought that Corbyn simply can’t find it; with some outlets reporting that he has had to ask HMRC to send him a copy.  However, the Leader’s Office dispute this — they insist that it will be published soon. So as things stand, we have a Prime Minister for whom the Panama Papers have turned into