Older people are a growing group for HM Revenue & Customs and significant numbers pay too much or too little tax, according to a report released today by the National Audit Office.
Errors occur because many people’s tax affairs become more complicated when they reach pension age and HMRC’s systems do not cope well with their multiple sources of income. The NAO estimates that, by March 2009, as a result of discrepancies between HMRC’s records and tax deducted by employers and pension providers, some 1.5 million older people had overpaid tax by an average of £171 (£250 million in total), and around 500,000 older people had underpaid tax by an average of £207 (£100 million in total). These errors can have a disproportionate effect on older people as their net average annual income of £16,000 was around 25 per cent below the national average in 2006-07. The Department expects a new computer system introduced in June 2009 to reduce the level of errors.
Older people may also be paying more tax because they do not claim additional age-related tax allowances. The NAO estimates that some 3.2 million older people do not claim the additional allowances. Some may not claim these allowances because they do not have sufficient income to pay tax, while others do not realise they are entitled to them. Claiming these allowances would boost the average income of an older person by up to 4 per cent. HMRC estimates that some 2.4 million older people have also paid around £200 million more in tax because they did not have their savings income paid gross.
Around 80 per cent of older people dealing with the Department were satisfied with the service received. Older people are less likely to contact HMRC for help than other taxpayers, even though around 36 per cent do not understand their tax obligations (compared with 26 per cent of all taxpayers). When older people contact the Department, the NAO estimates each enquiry costs twice as much to deal with as enquiries from other taxpayers because they tend to be more complicated. HMRC spends around £36 million per year in staff costs on dealing with enquiries from older people.
Demographic changes are likely to increase the pressures and costs for HMRC. The Department should rethink its approach to ensure that older people get the financial support to which they are entitled. It should also work in a more joined-up way with other organisations to provide a more coherent service for older people on their tax affairs.