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One minute with... Morris Graham

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What is the biggest challenge facing your department?

Right now, it’s probably having to do more with less. It’s no secret that public bodies are facing significant financial restrictions, so we have to come up with more effective ways of serving our customers. We are encouraging taxpayers to use our digital services where appropriate, as last year we received more than three million calls on just three things that could have been quickly and easily done digitally – resetting an online password, getting your tax code and getting your national insurance number. We want our call handlers to be available to help those who most need to speak to us – those with complex queries, the digitally excluded and the vulnerable. This isn’t a new challenge, especially for people who’ve been around as long as I have, but this is probably the biggest such one I’ve seen.

How did you arrive at stamp taxes?

My predecessor as Head of Stamps was based in Birmingham, and when he retired the department was keen to keep the post here. I was coming up to seven years in Large Business compliance and I wanted a change. I really fancied getting back into the deep tax technical and policy world, so here I am!

What advice would you give someone thinking of joining HMRC?

Definitely give it a lot of consideration. Personally, I love it. It’s the variety of opportunity at all levels, from small business compliance to criminal investigation, valuation to international tax treaty negotiation, countering tax avoidance to project management, IT to policy development to name but a few. I forget how many professions are represented in this department, but it’s over 40 I think. There’s something for everyone!

What’s a hot topic in stamp taxes?

Stamp taxes generally are very effective, if not universally popular! They bring in a lot of money to the Exchequer. Part of the challenge is making sure customers can access accurate guidance around SDLT claims. As someone put it to me recently, people don’t wake up one day and say: ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve just realised I bought two houses instead of one, so I must make a claim for multiple dwellings relief’. Online adverts and media messages work hard to convince new property owners that they can make a valid SDLT claim. HMRC has made relevant guidance on Gov.UK (via very clear to help customers determine if what they are being told about SDLT claims is just too good to be true.

What importance do you place on collaborating with industry to improve guidance and policy proposals?

I value that collaboration enormously. I like to think our stakeholders have seen the more open approach we have taken to guidance, in particular. Amending guidance without first running it past stakeholders is very much the exception nowadays, and there’d have to be a really good reason not to. A great example of that is the change we made to guidance on gardens or grounds a while back. There was no policy change, but just making the guidance much clearer has, I like to think, helped people, possibly even tribunals, understand what the legislation actually does.

What are you most proud of?

One of the things I’m least proud of, or rather I’ll always be slightly disappointed about, was that I had to be the Head of Stamps responsible for the end of physical stamping after 326 years of stamp duty! Most proud? Probably our recent track record in SDLT litigation. We’re closing off – quite rightly, I’m sure your readers will agree – opportunities to make claims for relief that have absolutely no chance of success. I’m also very proud of our policy partnership with the Treasury – not something people see from the outside, but I believe it to be one of the best inter-departmental relationships, and one that does have an effect on the end users of stamp taxes.

You might not know this about me but...

I’m a big fan of punk rock music, and have been since I was a kid. I’m of that certain age! 

Issue: 1641
Categories: One minute with