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I’ve been predicting this scenario for years and it’s finally come to pass.

Before we decamped to Paris for a couple of years, I’d had my own consultancy advising on how to recruit people from different sections of society. It was quite fun actually and astounding that people seemed to have no insights whatsoever into the lives and experiences of people different from themselves. (Come to think of it, I really don’t know why I’m still so surprised at this, given Nige Farrige’s pronouncements yesterday)

It’s a long story but essentially my previous manager had left the agency suddenly and I really didn’t want to be managed by the obnoxious button-pushing racist knobface who was about to take his place. In the same week that he announced his resignation, my lovely nanny share also announced her departure for California where she’d met and fallen in love with a Mexican man whilst on holiday. It was inopportune in the extreme. I tried and tried to find a replacement nanny in her three week notice period but none was available.

I was fed up with being sidelined and outmanoeuvred by office politics so setting up on my own seemed like a good idea. I could combine working with looking after MsDD, who was then less than a year old. Do you know, I was routinely ostracised in that office and no-one bothered to mark my departure. There were no leaving drinks, nothing. This is what happens when you’re deluded enough to expect that everyone behaves in a polite and civilised manner.

We did find eventually in our desperation find someone who could look after MsDD for four mornings a week while I worked but she turned out to be a bit of a disaster. She would park MsDD in front of the television for hours and was always late arriving, taking advantage of the fact that I wasn’t rushing for the train. The final straw came when she tried to claim travel expenses for her journey to and from work. We were paying her hundreds of pounds per week for this and it was a relief when she finally resigned a year later.

I struggled on, combining work and looking after the children and the home. Doing school runs at 8.30 and 12 and fitting in work when I could. Without any support from family, it’s almost impossible to do and we had none. Women who manage successful careers have the following 1) understanding and helpful partners with time to help with childcare and round the house 2) huge amounts of support from family and friends 3) enough money to pay for good childcare (out of taxed salary) and childcare available 4) a supportive and sympathetic manager.

I had only one of these things, a supportive manager, who was me, as I employed myself. The OH was working longer and longer hours and often travelling. These were years of awful pressure for me and it was probably just as well that I had only one or two clients and didn’t have to attend meetings very often.

As we considered the move to Paris – the OH felt under pressure to move to preserve his job – and major work on our house in 2004 the employment rug was pulled from under my feet and I received an email from Mr Odious that my services were no longer required. (Meaning that he didn’t see a need for the “equal opportunities industry.” Does this sound at all familiar today? Diversity was, is, a luxury, only affordable in times of plenty, it would seem) It was a terrible shock but we moved to Paris the following autumn and I haven’t worked since then.

Why am I telling you all this? Firstly because I thought you might be a little interested but also because it’s background to the letter up there that I received today.

I haven’t worked since 2004 but when we moved to Paris we rented out our house partly to meet the cost of the renovations we’d made, partly because we didn’t want it standing empty for two years. I’m not even going to mention the problems we had with our first lot of tenants. We had to pay tax on this rental income, which was a little rich because and, correct me if I’m wrong OH and I’ll take this bit out, OH’s dear, sympathetic, supportive employer also wanted to pocket a large portion of the money that we were making from the rent. It still seems odd to me. So I was taxed by HMRC on my half share of the rental income from 2004-2005; 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 when we returned. Are you following this?

I have not earned anything since 2004 and my sole income has been an allowance (from taxed salary) that my OH has given me but, because of my previous self-employment and the rental income,  I’ve had to fill in self-assessment tax returns every year. This means that HMRC have often owed me tax due to my overpayment (from tax paid on interest.)

Last year I filed yet another tax return with no income on it but then called up HMRC to ask whether I really had to go through this palaver every year, only to discover that I was owed a fiver or so. I was told by the HMRC call centre person that I probably wouldn’t have to. This year, the message was reinforced by the HMRC website Check if you need to fill in a self-assessment tax return, which told me that I probably didn’t. So this year I didn’t fill in a tax return.

The 31st January tax return deadline came and went, wilfully ignored by me. This week, however, I received a Penalty Demand for £100 for late filing of my tax return. “If you wish to appeal this penalty,” read the letter, “Please call us or use the enclosed appeal form.” There was no enclosed appeal form, obviously, so I called the HMRC.

When I finally got through, a nice lady explained that I will have received the Penalty Demand because in the absence of notice from me that I was no longer self-employed, they thought I had failed to provide a tax return. I explained my case and she said she would file a report to say that I need no longer fill in a return. I was reassured until I received the above letter this morning.

You can see that HMRC are charging me a £100 penalty for late filing. That’s nice. In addition, I shall be charged a supplementary penalty for every day that I do not pay the fine after January 31st. despite the fact that I have NO INCOME and therefore have NO TAX TO PAY.

Ah yes, you can see that they’ve deducted from their bill the overpayments for the tax years 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 that they have owed me since then. They’ve generously brought forward my tax overpayment from 2010/2011 too.  I notice that HMRC are kindly offering to pay me a 15p supplement to cover all the extra hundreds of days that THEY were late with MY repayments.

It’s enough to make my blood boil.

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