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Tax crackdown change means GPs don't know where they stand

We all like to know where we stand.

For example, if you book a restaurant table in the UK for a certain time, you expect to be sitting at your table by the time of your reservation. In the USA on the other hand, if you book a restaurant at a certain time, you can expect to be seated when the next available table becomes clear, which could take 10 minutes, half an hour, or if is it a Brazilian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, possibly never.

On my first few trips to the USA, my misunderstanding of this code prompted some irritation on my part until I sorted this out in my own mind. Now, when I am in the USA I come prepared to wait for my table and if I am seated on time I am overjoyed.

The point is I know where I stand.

When self assessment was introduced back in 1996/7, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) reinforced its tools by having the power to impose a penalty of £3,000 for failure to keep proper records. It also added that this penalty would only be used in extreme cases, and since 1996/7 I have never come across a case of this penalty being applied. I know where I stand here.

In December 2010, HMRC announced it was going to target 50,000 businesses to seek poor record keeping where the fines could be applied.

There was a suitable fuss about this and it has just announced that their will be a review of the programme, and revising down the number of inspections to 20,000. My problem, and I believe you the reader’s problem, is that we no longer know where we stand.

Is this penalty a weapon in HMRC’s armoury to be used in investigations where it discovers inadequate records, or is it a revenue raising opportunity? I think it should be the former but I am afraid it has become the latter. No wonder morale at HMRC is so low.

I am sure many GPs will recognise similar changing attitudes from their masters, or as Evelyn Waugh put it: "change and decay in all around I see…"

Should GPs be worried? I think that most GP practices keep decent records and probably won’t be too badly affected by this, but what about the GPs themselves? Do they keep proper records for their car expenses and other personal expenses they claim? Hopefully yes, but now may be a good time to start asking for receipts and keeping them.

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