Advantages If you enjoy the job it's fulfilling and reasonably well-paid.
Disadvantages If you don't like working with figures it would be hell on earth!
When retired Civil Servants meet talk inevitably turns to how good it used to be in the old days and how times have changed. I was reminiscing about my early days in the Inland Revenue and I remembered walking with my daughter some thirty years ago and meeting the local Superior Young Gentleman. With the assurance of childhood Helen announced that “Mummy is an Inspector of Taxes”. The Superior Young Gentleman smiled and said, in that sing-song voice that some people use with young children “Do you know what taxes are?” “Yes” said Helen “they’re big black cars.”Well, what brought me to this career that my daughter was not alone in being unable to comprehend? It was accidental and we need to go back a couple of years before I joined the Revenue…
At the age of twenty two I found myself alone with a baby to look after. My first husband decided that he wanted no part in her upbringing or our support and because of the structure of the benefits system at that time I was left with a stark choice: I could work for our living or I could claim benefits. There was no middle way. Bear with me, this is not just a little social history – there is a reason for telling you all this. I chose to work simply because I could foresee a poverty trap that would grind us both down.My first job was in a Bank. I was promised a cheap mortgage which failed to materialise and the comparatively expensive flat which I had taken as a stop-gap became a millstone around my neck and I had to look for a job that was better paid and had some prospects. There were no laws about discrimination and the concept of equality of the sexes was but a dream, so the majority of prospective employers had little reluctance about pointing out that a woman on her own with a child to bring up was hardly the sort of employee they wanted. There was one exception to this, though – the Civil Service.
At the time the Inland Revenue was recruiting heavily in this area because it intended to build another massive centre to handle pay-as-you-earn taxpayers. The project died a political death but I was recruited at a time when the Department was not in a position to be over-picky about the social standing of some of its newer employees. The fact that I had a couple of A levels (although I was never able to get even a basic qualification in Maths!) and could get past an interview panel was what counted.I began my career as a Tax Officer (Higher Grade) – now known as a Revenue Executive. People become specialists quite early in the Revenue and it’s frequently accidental. On my first morning a desk had to be found for me and it happened to be in the Schedule E section – that’s the section that deals with employees. Had the desk been in the Schedule D section (that’s the section that deals with the self-employed) my career and probably my life would have been very different.
Apart from about two years of my career I worked almost exclusively with employees, initially of quite small companies and later of some very large ones. To begin with I was involved in the nuts and bolts of taxpayers’ affairs – working out codings so that employers could operate Pay as You Earn, (and sometimes explaining to employers how to operate PAYE) making assessments and repayments. It was unfortunate that the office was over a pub because Friday afternoons could become rather difficult. I was hit once, but the Department’s attitude was that I should forget about it and get on with the job. I was always nervous about interviews after that and in later years when my job was almost exclusively interviewing that proved to be enormously stressful.My promotion to Inspector came relatively early and if I am honest it came about mainly because I was in the right place at the right time. I had to undertake an intensive course (whilst still doing the job) in accounting (a course of a few months to equip us to negotiate with accountants who had acquired professional qualifications over a number of years) followed by an equally intensive course in Tax Case Law.
Becoming an Inspector did, however, move me into one of the happiest periods of my working life, when I started to deal with the affairs of the wealthier members of society. It wasn’t simply pleasure at removing money from those who have a lot, but I always hated trying to extract money from people who had too little of it to start with and I found it less emotionally draining to extract it from the super-rich. Before long the Department realised that I had a talent for investigation work and I did this exclusively for a number of years. To me it was rather like working out a puzzle; piecing together the clues that I could find in Tax Returns, Bank statements and company accounts. Many years later I still have to stop myself from working out someone’s income when I chat to them, mainly because I can be uncannily accurate.An amazing number of people think of their donations to the Treasury as being voluntary. Some make genuine mistakes in not realising that they receive income on which they will have to pay some tax, some are less scrupulous and actually set out to defraud the Revenue (or, put another way, steal from every man, woman and child in the country). On occasions the offence is so extreme that there is a prosecution. I was only involved in one prosecution and it always offended me that someone cheating the Department of Social Security, frequently just to get enough money to have a passable standard of living was far more likely to be prosecuted than a rich man who cheated the Inland Revenue out of pure greed.
I had the opportunity of further promotion but for many reasons it didn’t work out and I elected instead to move from a purely investigative roll to a management job. For the last seven years of my working life I was in an office in the middle of the red light area of Bradford, dealing with various areas of London, some no more salubrious than the area I worked in. By the end of my time there I was managing a group of Revenue Executives who handled the affairs of Company Directors and also managing a group of investigators. It may sound dry, but I found it fulfilling.Unfortunately two things were happening in the background. The first was that the Revenue was reducing the number of staff at what I always thought of as ‘the sharp end’ – the people who actually dealt with the tax-paying public and the second was that a back problem that I’d suffered for the last fifteen years was steadily getting worse and the pressure of long days and trying to do too much finally took its toll. I spent most of the next ten months flat on my back in the hope of an improvement which never came. In my earlier days in the Revenue there would have been support from the Department. My friends were wonderful, but once it became apparent that any recovery I was likely to make would be slow the Department decided to cut its losses and I was retired.
I have two foibles, well, two I’m prepared to tell you about! Although my given name is Susan I don’t like it and those who know me never call me anything but Sue. The other is that I dislike cut flowers; it breaks my heart to have them in the house only to watch them die. On my retirement I was sent a letter from the regional head office. “Dear Susan…” it began. I also got a bunch of flowers. So ended twenty five years in the Inland Revenue.Would I do it again? Well, yes, I probably would. I had a job that I found mentally stimulating. Although I could have earned more money in the non-public sector I felt that what I was doing was worthwhile and I achieved a standard of living which I could never have envisaged in those early days when I made the choice between working and claiming benefits. I’m less certain whether I would suggest that someone starting their career should take the same path. The Revenue is no longer the supportive employer that it was in my early days. More than seventy thousand people work for them though, so perhaps it’s me that’s wrong!
There’s three ways you can join the Inland Revenue: you can join as a graduate (which can mean that you start as an Inspector of Taxes), you can enter at the junior executive/clerical level or you can join as a specialist such as an economist or a lawyer. There are no vacancies at present, but if you are interested keep an eye on the recruitment section of the Revenue’s website at http://www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk/recruitment/index.htm which gives details of the various methods of entry and has a link which shows any vacancies. I haven’t detailed such matters as pay or the availability of flexible working arrangements as they differ between jobs and at the various levels. In broad terms though, the Department is reasonable if not generous. There is a non-contributory pension scheme but the salaries paid are reduced to take account of this.I began by telling you about my daughter’s description of my job. I’ll end by telling you of something said to me by a lady who supplemented her income by working in the oldest of professions. “I don’t make MY money by sitting on my *rse” she said. How right she was.
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