musingsponderingsandrants

Parenting, profundities and humour

Slightly taxing…. — January 7, 2018

Slightly taxing….

Tax-Season-is-Coming

Here is a thing about me. I am very efficient. I do not like stuff ‘hanging over me’. Occasionally this back fires.

Just over a year ago I was offered some one off consultancy type work. I can’t really tell you what this was all about but once I had got over my initial feelings of panic and allowed a little bit of ‘wow maybe I am still someone whose brain has not been sufficiently addled by years of child rearing and house keeping that someone thinks I maybe useful for something vaguely important’ to set in I decided to accept.

Being my usual efficient self I registered as self employed with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in case I needed to pay tax.

I am not a stranger to the HMRC as I am a registered Agent. This may surprise you. I do get a gentle frisson of excitement every time I get an invitation to join the Agent’s Forum or receive incomprehensible e mails updating me on the complexities of Corporation Tax. But really it is just a way for me to do my husband’s and mother’s  tax returns for them. Because I am slightly money minded. And enjoy form filling.

Mother no longer needs a return doing now she is no longer a property magnate. Well since she sold her rented one bed flat anyway. And so my Agency duty consists of copying figures from my husband’s P60 and P11D and informing the HMRC of the laughably low amounts of interest he earns on the money we haven’t yet squandered on electronic devices for the offspring.

To be honest I was quietly looking forward to the challenge of completing a return for myself. ‘Self employed’ is a whole new form which I had yet to tackle. I love a challenge me.

Anyway for reasons I won’t bore you with I never got paid for that work. I did it but not for cash. That sounds slightly seedy but I can reassure you it wasn’t, in any way.

No worries I thought to myself I will simply deregister with the HMRC. Ah unfortunately not. Having registered I have to do at least two years of returns before I am able to deregister.  Bummer.

Anyway for those of you not in the know the deadline for UK self assessment on line returns is the 31st January. Historically I have been much earlier in my submissions. This is because one of my clients (my mother) used to nag me to get it done. My other client doesn’t. Nag me. Which it now transpires is a shame.

Anyway Christmas is over. I can no longer put off all those things I have been putting off since October when Preparing for Christmas took all my energy or at least was an excuse I could use to put off all those things. All Those Things only really consisted of those tax returns. You will remember from paragraph one that I usually do not like things hanging over me. Apparently things that will land me a large fine are…fine though. I should really explore this part of my psyche at some point. Not now though. More important things to do.

And so yesterday on the 4th Jan I decided I needed to tackle those tax returns.

It probably won’t surprise you to know that I have a spreadsheet of all my savings accounts. This makes me sound a bit like Rockerfeller but I really don’t want to give you that impression. Most of the accounts are legacy and have tuppence ha’penny in and are a result of expiring ISAs from when I worked and had no children and had a bit of spare cash. Some are proper accounts from a similar time. Some I opened to take legacy funds off my husband to avoid tax as I am/was/still am but now have to prove it due to my damned efficiency a non tax payer. Some are newer and opened when I had a hotline to Martin Lewis the self proclaimed money saving expert and was trying to get a decent rate of interest on these funds. It has been impossible to get a decent rate of interest in the UK for several years whilst base rate has languished unloved below 1%. As such I have somewhat given up moving my small amount of savings around.

The mess of my savings accounts is further compounded by the fact that over the years a lot of those accounts have changed hands. So what started off as an Egg has hatched into a northern building society etc. I dutifully kept all the letters informing me of such things unread in a file which would be marked ‘stuff I should have probably read and got round to before the deadline for my completely pointless first ever tax return was upon me’ if I had the gift of foresight.

Anyway I trawled through the spreadsheet looking for taxable savings accounts and made a list.

No one sends out paper to customers anymore. Although I applaud this from an environmental perspective it meant that I had no tax based certificates from any of my savings accounts except for a midlands based building society who still kindly do write every year telling me the interest I have earned on my entirely tax exempt ISA. Thanks. I do often wonder what I should spend that fiver on.

Incidentally this also makes proving one’s address quite difficult. I no longer have utility bills less than three months old showing my address as no one sends them. Well the Water Board do but only every  six months and the Council Tax annually. This was an issue when I wanted to redirect my mail when we moved house, as my address proof was over three months old. It got quite problematic. I did at one point suggest that the postman who had been delivering to me at my address for around 5 years could call randomly one day to check I actually lived there. But they weren’t having any of it. I can’t remeber how I got round that one now, possibly a waiver, signed in blood.

Sorry I digress. Now I just had to get my hands on tax certificates from those relevant institutions.

This meant I had to go into the drawer. I expect everyone has such a drawer. It is full of passwords and user names for a myriad of on line accounts which I should have committed to memory. No one has the ability to commit such a large amount of stuff to memory. Do they? It also contains pass cards and readers for banks. Notes of my memorable answers to memorable questions. Which I cannot remember. And such like. One piece of paper from one bank had the words ‘kiwi’ and ‘tree frog’ cryptically scribbled and then highlighted by my own hand. I looked forward to finding out what the bejeebers that was all about.

I managed to get on line to a few of those financial institutions. The last time I did this was probably last year when I updated the spreadsheet with balances after the annual round of interest payments had been made. Still thinking of ways to use those fivers.

Anyway I managed it with a few. I was on my last one. I had saved it for last as it is like getting into Fort Knox as it requires a 9 digit customer number (in my memory obviously) a passcard and reader with another 6 digit code. Again committed to memory, obviously.

I found the customer number. I got to the card reader response stage and entered the PIN which was accepted. A number was produced which I entered. Then I got the failure message. My card had expired. I needed to ring up. Not to worry I had another customer registration number and PIN for the same bank for their telephone banking service. The PIN was missing from the tear off letter. I emptied the drawer and found it attached to the bottom of my old calculator which no longer works but which I keep for sentimental reasons as it got me through 2 O levels and 2 A levels in maths. If only those qualifications in maths were of help now. But no a degree in cryptology and a much, much better memory would be of more use. I stuck the PIN to the letter with sellotape. I was not going to be caught out that way again. During this process I also found about 15 plastic documents wallets, some address labels, some A4 manila envelopes and an on line banking letter from another bank which I also needed for my husband’s return which had fallen down the back of the drawers. Result.

I braved the telephone system. Once I had negotiated the customer registration number and PIN entry I then had to say in a few words what my problem was. A few words are never enough but not to mind I said “my on line banking authentication card has expired”. This was clearly too many words as the system only heard “card expired” and put me through to the Card Centre clearly thinking I needed a new debit or credit card. The menus then bore no relation to my issue. No matter I thought I will simply enter numbers or say words that will lead me to an actual human. What it led me to was them hanging up on me.

I tried once more from the beginning. This time after listening again to how much the phone call was costing me (perhaps not the best way to spend those fivers) and re doing the reference number/PIN combo I said “on line banking”. This time I got through to a human. In India.

I don’t have an issue with people from India. Except that they can’t understand me. To be honest I have this issue with call centres in Liverpool. What I really need is a nice middle class call centre in the Home Counties. Anyway after what seemed like an age and me desperately imploring my customer services advisor not to put me back through to Card Services I thought he got the gist of what I needed. He went away to take advice. And then he came back to say I needed to go into a branch with 2 forms of ID, one with proof of my address less than 3 months old, to order a new card. I am not in a good place water board/ Council Tax cycle wise and so this seemed like a very bad idea. Indeed.

Moreover I have been burnt by customer service telephone banking teams telling me to do this before. You dutifully go into a branch and try to explain what you need and they look at you all blank as if you have just landed from an alien planet. Then they tell you to call the customer services team. In short they cannot help you. They can, however, sell you a mortgage.

I decided to just order the Tax Certificate and cut out myself as middle man and tackle the expired on line authentication card at my leisure. My customer services advisor went away again and came back to say, thankfully, that this was possible. He asked me to confirm which account I needed it for. I have several. Mostly expired ISAs and terrible savings accounts they opened for me when I failed to deal with my expired ISAs. I looked down the list of accounts which had been sent to me when those accounts moved over from the previous institution I had actually opened the accounts with (which from memory had much easier on line security) and provided an account number which he seeemed to recognise. He assured me that the certificate would be with me in about  3 days. I hung up.

I then looked more carefully at that letter which I had got out of that file of stuff I should have read before my first ever and completely pointless tax return was upon me and realised there was another account I needed a certificate for. It had also occurred to me that maybe I should have been sent a new authentication card and that maybe I had never changed my address with them. Such things are possible.

I called back. Same painful process. Different customer services advisor. Same going away and coming back again. I provided the other account. Was assured my address was correct. Ordered the tax certificate. This one would take 5 days. Fingers crossed.

This whole process had now taken about two hours. My floor was covered with stationery I had retrieved from behind the back of my, let’s call them my password, drawers. The dinner was beeping urgently at me. I decided to quit.

I tried to forget that husband also had an account at this institution and that he would have to go through the same painful process himself.

The next morning galvanised and refreshed I logged onto the HMRC website to start off my husband’s return. And found I could not get past my Agency home screen. Too much traffic. The site had crashed.

I can only hope that my documentation arrives within the three or five days promised and that the site is accessible at some point. Some forums suggest before 8.30am. That sounds like my best option once the kids finally return to school next week. Apparently about 9000 people did it on Christmas Day and Boxing Day this year. They don’t seem so stupid now.

I am never ever leaving it this late again. Promise.

 

Go Compare… — August 25, 2016

Go Compare…

Home-Insurance.png

So today I got round to a bit of household admin…. I do all the admin…. It is part of my job…. Which I don’t actually have…. As I am variously classed as housewife/ homemaker/ full time mother/ waste of space…. That last one isn’t on many forms. But the implication is there.

Anyhoo. I do the admin.

During the school holidays the admin tends to pile up. Because I find it hard to concentrate enough to do it with a house full of kids wanting me to: mend and then blow up punctured paddling pools; admire their zip wire constructions which stretch precariously from bedroom window to trampoline and down which teddies pinned by ears to coat hangers career less than gracefully; rescue indoor remote control helicopters from the tops of trees in next door’s garden. More or less all at the same time. On an average day.

In any event the pile had got unwieldy. And was threatening to topple over. And merge with the pile of school/ child extra curricular type admin stuff. I need two piles. To avoid such toppling. School/ child extra curricular type admin is not a priority currently. Them not being at school or doing anything much of an extra curricular nature except watching endless you tube videos involving vloggers or Pokemon Go, avoiding anything relating to musical instruments and football. There is always bloody football. That game just never quits. Ever. I digress. So this other admin pile had also got quite big. Therefore I decided I needed to begin to attack my home admin pile. I had a quick shifty. The pile contained:-

Details of my new mobile phone insurance which bizarrely had been sent to my old address. That needed changing.

A new address card from friends. Again sent to my old address. I needed to let them know we had moved. I could have sworn I wrote our new address in their Christmas card but clearly the message had not got through. I guess this is how people fall out of touch. If the lovely people who bought our old house had not sent our friends’ change of address card on to us our Christmas cards this year would just have ended up in a recycling factory. Sad.

Middlest’s child trust fund statement. This sounds like we are much posher than we are…we aren’t.

A request to book in my annual boiler service. Again. Blimey that came round quick.

A large note to myself saying BOOK MIDDLESTS BIRTHDAY PARTY. In block capitals. With no apostrophe I noticed. Someone had also highlighted the note with pink highlighter. I think I can guess who. Probably not a grammar aficionado.

A letter telling me of a change in our bank account’s terms and conditions. I usually bin these letters as they just tell me how much more I will get charged if I go overdrawn. But I had seen a reference to ‘Travel Insurance’ on the front page and so needed to investigate. Please see below.

The claim forms from my Bank account’s travel insurance company which needed filling in following our recent medical escapades in Portugal. (See Why are there no Aspirin in the Jungle? for more information should you feel the need.)

An automatic renewal letter for the breakdown cover on my oven. Decisions decisions.   Do I allow renewal and then ensure my oven never breaks down again or cancel and ensure my oven breaks down a day later….always a lose lose situation.

A renewal letter from my insurer for my home insurance.

I decided to tackle the last item first. I thought it would be a quick ‘win’. Cursory glance to ensure T&Cs still in order. File. Jobs a goodun.

I looked at the premiums for the coming year. They looked a little, well, larger than I was currently paying, but I wasn’t sure. In our house move last year many, many things changed, got more expensive, got more complicated and such like.  I wasn’t sure how much we were actually paying. So I checked it to last year’s letter and found out my premiums had gone up by over 20%. Ouch.

Now I am not one of those perpetual comparers. I do not regularly check my energy providers. Switch insurers at the merest whim. I am not the proud owner of numerous meerkats wearing dubious outfits. I am loyal. Which I hoped counted for something.

Clearly not as this seemed to me to be taking the proverbial piss. I had claimed on my home insurance during the year (we broke some doors- well the wind did please see The View for more info). I thought maybe this was skewing the premiums. But, no, I saw that my No Claims Discount had gone up 5% making the price hike even more ridiculous.

My mother arrived. I hadn’t called her for insurance advice. She didn’t arrive in lycra tights with a cape ‘Insurance Woman’…She was coming around anyway. But even without the benefit of superhero powers she agreed the price hike seemed ridiculous.

There was nothing for it. I was going to have to enter a price comparison web site. I have tried to use such places before. To change energy suppliers. I got so bogged down in kilo watt hours and such like that I gave up trying. It had seemed that I needed to refresh my Maths A level before attempting again. I was hoping an insurance site might need less algebra skills.

In the event, although it took a fair while, most of the questions could be answered from my handy, if expensive, renewal letter. And the others I did my best with. I pressed the button. Those few seconds whilst the site was ‘getting quotes’ felt a bit like Christmas morning as a kid when one has awoken too early and is not able to immediately investigate the bulging stocking at the end of the bed. Well maybe I exaggerate a little. But my internet is very slow (something else on the admin pile) and so it did seem that time stretched out a little.

Well when those quotes came up I was staggered with how much less some of them were.

The first thing I did was scroll down to a name I recognised. Call me cautious but I struggle to buy stuff from firms I have never heard of. Plus a lot of them had rather dodgy looking ratings. It is all well and good paying tuppence ha’penny for an insurance policy but if the claims process is going to let you down it seems rather pointless.

Even discounting the more discounted quotes based on my gut feel and innate warning system of ‘if it seems to good to be true it probably is’ I could get my insurance nearly £450 cheaper elsewhere.

I still was not convinced and went through to the well known department store’s actual site and made sure the quote was like for actual like. OK I needed to amend the voluntary excess down a bit which put the price up a bit. Still a £425 saving.

I rang them. That warning bell was still going off in my head. It took three minutes to get through the menu system and to listen to all the dire warnings about lieing and to their privacy policy which basically consists of one having no privacy unless one stipulates that one wants privacy.

I got a lovely lady. In the UK. Always a bonus. I checked my concerns. Had they understood my claims history? Where my specified items showing? Etc. She confirmed all was in order and urged me to complete the process on line as it would be more expensive to do it through her. Good advice too.

My mind was almost made up. My innate sense of loyalty kicked in. I rang my current insurer to see if they could do anything and anyway I would need to tell them I wished to cancel. I got through their menu system in record time as I had clicked ‘I wish to cancel my insurance’ early on in the process. That seemed to help.

I explained that their insurance was too expensive. The man ‘ran through the renewal terms’ and came back with an offer £200 lower than the original quote. I was flabbergasted. In fact now I was even more cross. I asked him why he was suddenly able to provide me with insurance for £200 less a year than previously quoted.

He spouted some guff about the quote being computer generated and then I let him talk on by saying nothing and his ‘excuses’ got lamer and lamer. In summary what he meant was:

If you are a sucker who does not challenge his insurance quote you will get shafted.

I ‘politely’ declined his offer. Added accidental damage to my new quote and still proceeded to save our family £400 a year less the cost a few phone calls and my time, which as we know costs nothing.

The price of loyalty, it seems, is extremely high.

Shocking.

 

 

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