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Friday, January 06, 2006

Class 2 National Insurance Contributions

I had a letter from the Inland Revenue demanding Class 2 National Insurance Contributions which I had apparently not paid and threatening me with legal action if I did not pay them £291.65 within seven days.

This was the first time they had written to me about the matter. I didn't even owe them the money (I paid monthly by direct debit every month, arranged initially through my accountant). So the first letter threatened to take me to court if I didn't cough up, within 7 days, money I didn't owe them.

They supplied a telephone number and asked me to contact them on this number to discuss the matter OR legal proceedings would be started.

I dialled the number 30 times. Every time it was engaged, apart from on one occasion. On that occasion the number actually rang, someone picked it up after only a couple of rings (I could hear the ambient acoustic of real people in the background) and then ... DISCONNECTED ME AGAIN.

Here's the number, folks. 084591 50567. The number the tax office uses that's designed never to be used. Why don't you try it? Go on, dial it now. Prove me wrong.

So here's the deal: threaten people out of the blue with court action, and with no warning, if they don't pay a seemingly random sum of money, advise them to "discuss" the matter on a telephone "helpline" which is designed never to work, and wait till the cheques come rolling in.

BRILLIANT! Well, wouldn't everyone try that one if it was legal? Apparently the only people who can get away with it are government departments.

Here's my letter back to them:

"I enclose a copy of the document you sent me concerning a 'Demand for Class 2 National Insurance Contributions'.

"This letter came out of the blue and threatens immediate Court action. However no preceding notification of this “problem” has been received.

"I pay my NI contributions by direct debit every month from my bank account, yet you say I have paid £0.00 and you are demanding £291.65 with threats.

"I tried phoning your telephone number about 30 times today and it was continually engaged, so I could not contact you. Your threats would almost certainly result in a small percentage of people paying you immediately in the absence of being able to speak to someone.

"In other words, you’re on a nice little earner here, aren’t you!

"Can you let me have details of the amount of money wasted on the unsuccessful Court prosecutions that your behaviour brings about every year?"

I'm still waiting for a rational, grown-up response to my last question. After all, as a taxpayer I pay their salaries, so I expect good service.

POSTSCRIPT: It is now August 2006 and they seem to have learned their lesson. Well, a little bit, any way. They send me a letter (again) asking me to pay my National Insurance Class 2 contributions (which I already pay by standing order, but they do not seem to be aware of that). They provide a telephone number that actually works! To my shock it is picked up by someone. After a brief (but longer than is strictly necessary) conversation the result is that I am to ignore the letter because it is meaningless.

A step in the right direction? Well, probably. A little step. They have installed a telephone number that works. A little step.

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