If you put a group of people in a room and asked them what was wrong with the tax system, the chances are that complexity would be top of their list. The quantity of boxes to consider and the labyrinthine structure of the tax calculation sheet overwhelm anyone who has tried to complete even a basic income tax return form. There are a dozen principal taxes to consider each with their own, at times, arcane and anomalous rules. Much tax law is rushed through Parliament without proper consideration, or worse is the result of secondary legislation that has not had appropriate scrutiny. This aids the Revenue and the government but is at the expense of the taxpayer. We at the Tax Faculty wanted to take a positive step to address such concerns. The result is a discussion paper called Towards a better tax system which has been sent to all members, all MPs and other interested parties. In the paper we set out a ten-point plan that covers factors such as certainty, simplicity, proper targeting of legislation, constancy and proper consultation. Many of our points are not controversial, but the current lack of guiding principles leaves a system that is lacking in coherence, that is subject to frequent change and which leaves even the most numerate taxpayers bewildered and unrepresented taxpayers totally overwhelmed. We also suggest a code for fiscal simplicity, which would be a standard by which all new tax law could be judged to ensure its impact is properly considered in relation to those who will have to rely upon it. We know that there are no easy solutions to the issue of tax complexity and we appreciate that tax law, at times, cannot be simple. However, we believe there are steps that can be taken in order to reach a consensus on the underlying principles. We welcome comments on this issue as we hope to use our discussion paper as a stepping stone towards raising the debate and ultimately making the changes towards reaching a better tax system. - Francesca Lagerberg is senior tax manager at the English ICA Tax Faculty.
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