By Beth Porter
PART THREE – The Price of Knowing
Chapter Seven – Her Majesty’s Revels & Costumes
Facts of the incontrovertible variety:
1967 – I spent six months touring Europe as a member of The New York LaMaMa Troupe. We were on some kind of tourist visas, all pre-arranged by Ellen Stewart, the company’s administrator.
1968 – Ellen sent me back to London to assess the viability of establishing a LaMaMa company outside the USA. It was viable; I relocated permanently to the UK.
2002 – I began to question my reduced basic state pension; little did I know at the time it would take some 14 years to reach a resolution of sorts.
2013 – justified by saving money, the government implemented a series of closing small claims courts throughout the country. At the time, I was being helped pro bono by a noted firm of specialist tax lawyers and their associate barrister. Our case was scheduled to be heard in the reduced staffed local court building before it, too, closed.
2013 – just before the case was to be heard I suffered a mild but significant brain bleed, aka a stroke. I spent a weekend being treated by the brilliant medical team within the NHS. Given my previous diagnosis of heart failure, upon my release back home, I was under strict instructions for complete bed rest for the next four months. The court case had to be postponed.
2013/2014 – I became a UK citizen. By the time I was able to appear in court, represented again by the same excellent legal team, they hurriedly re-familiarised themselves with the stacks and stacks of written statements and evidence to the panel of magistrates. I was given leave to be called as a witness in my own defence.
Power Angels Are Go!
Following the secrets and lies underpinning all the previous chapters, the biggest store of deception by far has been HM Revenue and Customs.
A large part of the problem predates 18 April 2005, when the Inland Revenue merged with Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise departments. This amalgamation was meant to unify the several duties of the state dealing with all manner of fiscal and financial matters.
Not that it matters! Setting such policy had been the whim of monarchs and their closest advisors in order to pay for wars and crony rewards for hundreds of years. Such revels! And with a nod to so-called tradition, some of ‘em still don lisle stockings and buckled shoes, wigs and caps and capes… the costumes for their jolly japes.
As decades rolled on [and with governments parading through the farce of elections for people legally in thrall to Parliament], the Power Angels found the perfect way to retain their hold over the population.
Combining the secrecy we’ve detailed with public pronouncements offering clarity and justification, strawmen and women take the hit for their leaders. Just tune into those daily updates on the pandemic to witness the greatest tool of control. Confusion.
Hard to pinpoint exactly when the civil servants chipping away at the HMRC coal face finally admitted how bamboozled they were by policies being tweaked on a daily basis.
At the moment of writing… bearing in mind so much has changed since I began my own investigations… it’s worth quoting from Wikipedia’s cogent overview. “HMRC is a non-ministerial department of the UK Government responsible for the collection of taxes, the payment of some forms of state support, the administration of other regulatory regimes including the national minimum wage and the issuance of national insurance numbers.”
The key phrase here is “a non-ministerial department.” In other words, this already authoritative body has no official oversight. There is no minister of state at its helm, despite a succession of government-appointed Chief Executives, Chairmen, and Non-executive Board Members. They owe their seats of privilege and the big bucks that go with it exclusively to the Prime Minister of the day. It’s in his/her gift.
During most of my involvement with these Power Angels, the Head Honcho [uhm, is there a lady equivalent of honcho? Honchess?]… anyway, she was Lin Homer. She turned up equally as unqualified to explore the nooks and crannies of HMRC as she had been as first chief executive of the failed Border Agency.
Undergoing scrutiny by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, it was claimed she’d misled the Agency, describing her tenure as “more like the scene of a Whitehall farce than a government agency operating in the 21st century.”
True to form Homer denied all charges, eventually retiring from the civil service as a Dame.
Along with Confusion, an allied tool of control is turning a Chief Exec into a land crab… in short, move ‘em sideways! Which is how she became the Permanent Secretary of HMRC between 2012 and 2016. It was one of the most exacting and significant times as we’ll soon discover.
Various authoritative sources continue to document changes in the Department’s remit. Though sometimes branded as serving the best interests of the people, they mostly consist of reducing accountability and clumping together the functions of “taxation, security, and trade facilitation.” These latter include tariffs and custom duty payments.
There’s no way of knowing whether Homer [who’d qualified as a lawyer in 1980 at University College London], was aware of the views of eminent tax expert Edward Troup, later knighted for “public service to taxpayers and the tax system.”
If anyone attached to these absurd succession of events holds the key to the locked Chamber of Secrets, it must be Troup. He succeeded Homer at HMRC, having officially advised a number of government ministers on legitimate and illicit ways to avoid and evade tax.
As you read about such methods in last week’s revelations regarding the richest men in the world, consider Troup’s admonition to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997.
This quote is from the Financial Times on 15 July of that year. “Taxation is legalised extortion and is valid only to the extent of the law… The issue of tax avoidance is real and important, but it cannot be considered in isolation from wider questions of the structure and direction of the tax system as a whole.”
What’s It Cost & How to Buy It
In our social media age, we can count on our friends to help us put right some of our more blatant misconceptions about our lives. But my story pre-dates the main avenues of social interchange, which has made it much more difficult for my attempts over fourteen years to discover how my state pension has been calculated.
In my naiveté I didn’t even realise that HMRC was the official organ of pension allocation. Because, after all, if you don’t know what you don’t know, how do you begin to separate reality from public relations platitudes. Early on I was amused to learn that among themselves, HMRC staff refer to their employer as ‘The Ministry’. Such an Orwellian irony.
It’s a massive operation based in the outskirts of Newcastle at Longbenton. I later learned that at the time, the whole shebang covered ten acres, with its own railway station for the nearly 70,000 locally based employees. If you include all the allied and subsidiary sections based throughout the UK, the numbers swell to about half a million.
During the time of my research, the Newcastle staff worked in teams with a collective annual budget of over £4 billion, give or take a pound. And, which until recently, included £170,000 for bottled water.
At times of internal crisis agency staff receive cursory training to fill the gaps, and [as documented in Hansard and elsewhere], work is occasionally sent abroad to be processed, including to India and Singapore.
There was no greater crisis than the complete refurbishment and re-building of the Longbenton site. It took ten years from planning at the London HQ to completion. Because staff had already been severely reduced, workers balked at the extra duties and consequent overtime they were expected to perform.
The entire process also coincided with the years of my research and investigation into my own reduced state pension.
The Ministry is bullet proof, almost immune from prosecution for malpractice or other naughty deeds. It’s ripe for corruption, and ignores its charter, which promises “integrity, honesty, objectivity, and impartiality.” Remember that secret report by US Justice Powell, strongly suggesting a policy of barriers to take out law suits against companies and government departments?
So when I assumed my case against HMRC constituted a law suit, turns out it was a hearing pitting my evidence against one of Homer’s designated representatives. The outcome could only ever be an increase in my state pension or a denial of it.
1967: as a member of the original LaMaMa Troupe I spend six months touring throughout Europe, including on the West End of London, and at the Edinburgh Festival, where I meet Peter, a Scotsman whom I subsequently marry. Our salary and all travel expenses are covered by LaMaMa, cash in hand and bills pre-paid.
1968/1969: Pete and I are sent back to London to test the viability of starting the first LaMaMa touring company outside America.
We welcome our great reception and accept free help from several experts. One of these is an accountant, many of whose clients are fellow artists and performers. We devolve all administrative matters to him, as neither of us understands the complexities of UK tax and National Insurance.
We follow his advice, including assuring my tourist visa is up to date. Being British, Pete needs no visa. I’m advised to register with the National Health service and receive an NHS number.
When the accountant is convicted of defrauding some of his clients [including the Monty Python team], neither Pete nor I have any clue that we’re not protected under the law. The law is at that time undergoing significant changes, though we’re unaware of them and their implications for us and our theatre company.
1969-1979: though we’d been separated for five years, we remained friends, and were still in touch when Pete died of cancer in 1995.
1980-2002: I pursued a solo acting career alongside producing articles and columns for various UK and American publications. My financial affairs were devolved either to personal managers or accountants. When I re-trained as a script editor and producer for BBC television, I kept my self-employed status, but agreed their in-house financial terms and provisions.
2013: HMRC oversees a variety of official duties including the National Insurance Contributions Office [NICO]. So, once I’d begun claiming my pension and questioning the amount, it seemed logical to start with the contact address on my monthly statements.
I hope you’ll be as shocked as I am by the near insanity of replies I received over the years. Remember this is all pre-WWW.
2002: I asked why my early UK career in showbiz didn’t figure in the calculations. NICO replied I must be mistaken because I never had a UK showbiz career. Of course I did! We have no record, they insisted.
I sent them documented proof, including cast-lists, publicity photos, and deposits in my bank account. They said that didn’t prove anything.
I requested copies of their alleged records. They said no. Instead, they sent me a catalogue of hypothetical actions I would have taken upon arrival in the UK. I said I’d never done any of those things, including applying for a national insurance card as a married woman. I wasn’t married at that time.
2003: I learned enough to again request the records they held about me. One form had my wrong birth date, and I asked why. They said because I told them. I asked when. They gave me a date when I was out of the country.
Again I asked why they claimed I didn’t have a career. They sent me a blank piece of paper. My name wasn’t on it. Their name wasn’t on it. Nothing was on it except a hand-drawn graph that had nothing on it.
2004: Finally I requested all my records under the Data Protection Act [DPA]. They said they didn’t have to provide them, which was a lie. Finally they conceded, but only sent me partial documents full of errors.
I tried to clarify every point. Nine months later I’d heard nothing, until a helpful MP intervened, and they finally sent a reply. It was incomplete and full of errors.
Now here’s a funny thing… I asked the MP in all innocence whether it was worth starting procedures for a judicial review… which is one of the ways to hold various departments to account. He advised against the idea on the grounds it might take a couple of years to be resolved.
Then, out of the blue, I received a phone call from an anonymous person claiming to be from HMRC, asking whether I intended to take out a judicial review. I was suitably baffled and said I’d merely been asking a question. The person made some excuse and rang off. Hmm!
Falling At The Final Hurdle
Believe me the above represents just a selection of the most egregious interchanges with HMRC staff. I was confident that in the face of such overwhelming evidence, the court was bound to see justice done. But there are just a few more examples that document why that wasn’t the outcome.
My case was classed as Tier One, the lowest level of the small claims court. The Tier system is partly based on how much the fee is set for. Considering the years of what I calculated I’d been owed for underpayment of the pension, and had I been able to afford it, I would have chosen a higher Tier.
In any case, before any substantive documentation can be presented to the panel of magistrates, I, as the Plaintiff, was required to produce a legal statement setting out in a reduced format all the points I intended to make against HMRC, the Defendants.
I worked on that statement for days, and it was duly approved by the team of lawyers. HMRC also had to produce a similar statement in defence of my claim. My lawyers were legally supplied with their documents, which I was able to see.
I was shocked to discover that the bundle of HMRC documents mostly comprised chapters from and reproductions of brochures and advisements of public relations pronouncements to staff and the press offices of print and broadcast companies. In my research I already had copies of those documents, which is how I knew their contents and for whom they were intended.
Perhaps the bigger shock, though, came some weeks after the panel of magistrates retired to consider their verdict. Their statement of justification to deny any adjustment to my reduced pension was entirely predicated on quoting back whole chunks of the legal statement I had filed for my lawyers and the court. There was no refutation, just a reiteration of my own words.
There was also a section on why I should have known the procedure to make good the periods of National Insurance payments since my entrance into the system as a married woman. Not only did that directly contradict the facts I’d attested to, there was a glaring and vital error they completely left out.
Apparently, I’d been given an opportunity to make a repayment in arrears of monies I’d owed HMRC. They failed, however, to record that the MP who was advising me at the time had counselled against such payment, as he felt there was no guarantee of any subsequent adjustment to the pension, especially in light of the many errors in the documents sent to me.
Until recently my computer system was subject to a few crashes, which has made it all the more difficult for me to tie up all the loose ends presented above.
My requests to HMRC for copies of the case have been ignored. The relevant pages of advice on their website do not cover the years in question.
After much searching, I was able to locate a service for the legal profession and those researching specific cases to buy a copy of my own case
It cost me just over £100. Case closed!
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This post was written by LPJAdmin