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It has emerged that the taxman has begun sending “threatening” text messages to warn taxpayers they are being monitored and to ensure they pay on time.

More than 13,000 taxpayers who fill in self-assessment tax returns have taken part in trials in which they have been sent SMS messages to remind them to pay tax on time.

In a trial run by the Governments Behavioural Insights Team, three types of text messages were sent to taxpayers, who had been previously contacted by HMRC with regards to their debt.

A report from the team said: “The ‘Standard’ SMS message simply alerted the recipient to the debt and told them how to pay.

“The ‘Monitoring’ message pointed out that HM Revenue and Customs would be monitoring whether the debt was paid in the following week.

“The ‘Penalties’ message included the phrase, ‘Most people pay on time to avoid penalties’.”

The team reported: “The ‘monitoring’ message raised payment rates by 3.8 percentage points, and the ‘penalties’ message by 7 percentage points, or 20 per cent in relative terms.

“Given that SMS messages are cheap to send, these results are very promising indeed.”

Other taxpayers we also targeted with messages such as “you were late last time”.

Anita Monteith, senior tax policy adviser at the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales, warned that ordinary taxpayers could become needlessly alarmed by the messages.

She said: “People are always scared when they receive a message from HMRC – even the nice ones. Certainly anything threatening would not be acceptable.”

HMRC claim to have gained an extra £210million from taxpayers by using the controversial “nudge” tactics.

 

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