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Tory MP says HMRC ‘menacing’ letters show state is using ‘sinister’ psychology

A Conservative MP says recent letters from HM Revenue & Customs demanding people pay up or face having their possessions auctioned is an example of behavioural psychology now being employed by the Government.

Conservative MP for Wycombe Steve Baker says the “menacing” letter sent to a woman running a small business in his constituency tried “to humiliate and intimidate” her into paying £130.

He says: “It is a hell of a tone to take. The assumption is you are a wrong ’un, so here is the full weight of the harshest letter we can send you.”

The letter, published on Baker’s website, states HMRC is targeting “people like you” and warning it will “cost you so much more to pay” if the demand is not met.

Baker says it reflects a report released in March by the Cabinet Office and Institute for Government, Mindscape, which sets out “the most robust (non-coercive) influences on behaviour” for policymakers.

He says: “We now have the state publicly backing and using scientific techniques of behavioural psychology to extract what it wants. It is sinister. You could dismiss it as a crazy conspiracy theory if it were not online with Cabinet Office written on it.”

An HMRC spokesman says the letter is the third in a series of three and is only sent if the recipient does not respond to the first two and that the Revenue has never seized property.


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There are 4 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. We are listed as an agent for some of our clients to se can help them with their tax returns (mainly elderley clients who don’t have access to a computer to complete them).
    We’ve written 4 times to ask HMRC to change our office address and phoned them repeatdely to tell them.
    They have been writing to the wrong address (data protection issues) now for over 8 months. If we write, we know from the recorded delivery records, they don’t even open the post for 6 weeks! When their letters finally get through to us (on redirect) and we try and phone about clients issues, of course we can’t speak to the person who wrote teh letter as it is the helpline only who take details and say theu’ll get the individual to phone us back. 1> As mentioned above, they have teh wrong phone number recorded for us and still haven’t changed it and 2. Even if they had teh right one, as advisers we see clients and hence are not always available when they call and then can’t phoen them back as it’s back to the helpline again.
    I’ve now had one client fined for late submission of their tax return, when if HMRC sorted out their act, they’d have had the return and tax payment of £70 well before the deadline….
    If they were a business, they’d be out of business. They’d also have counter claims for failure to deliver a service and threatening behaviour…

  2. sinister psychology is a technique used by many organisations..
    Has anyone read the tv license demand recently?
    We do not have a tv but are constantly bombarded with threats of enforcement action whereby we are warned enforcement officers will break down our door to make sure we are not watching our non existant tv without a license
    The FSA use the same techniques.
    These are the same techniques which were used by communist governments in Eastern Europe to keep the populace in a constannt state of fear.

  3. They dont scare me. In fact, I am now so angry with them, I want these sort of letters so I can take the fight to them.

  4. The coment from an HMRC ‘spokesman’ is a load of crap.
    First I have received these threats in a first letter after the bungling idiots tried to contact me on an out of date (by 5 years) telephone contact number.
    Second, the comment about taking goods is at best disingenuous, since they employ cowboy debt collection firms to act on their behalf, and in cases where the debt is large enough they will make an individual bankrupt (even where they have no assets). This is a means of clearing the debt from their accounts and is a similar tactic as used by some local authorities to balance their books.

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