TOP provides free, independent and highly professional tax help for older people on low incomes, especially those who lack confidence and information when dealing with the tax system and/or are isolated because of caring commitments, disability, transport difficulties or geography.
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Three and a half million UK pensioners pay tax and have a household income of less than ¬£17,000 pa. About 90% need help with tax-issues (mainly overpayments to HMRC), while an estimated additional million pensioners are paying tax unnecessarily on savings and investments. These households have no independent source of free tax help if they don‚Äôt understand, or lack confidence, when dealing with HMRC and other agencies. Older people represent 18% of taxpayers (this will increase to 23% by 2031). This group comprises a high proportion of people who also have particular emotional, personal and practical problems relating to tax issues. They are often physically and mentally vulnerable and frail, disabled, bereaved (especially new widows with new tax problems), lacking in confidence when dealing with agencies, of low numeracy and literacy skills, carers, geographically isolated and lacking access to transport and advice facilities. These practical and personal factors contribute to, and exacerbate, distinctive technical taxation problems for this demographic group. A National Audit Report in October 2009 found that two million older people have paid incorrect taxation because of PAYE discrepancies with 1.5 million each overpaying an average of ¬£171 pa, older people underpay significantly less tax because of higher compliance levels on self-assessment, 80% of older people have more complex tax arrangements because of multiple income sources with consequent difficulties for PAYE in calculating tax codes, 3.2 million do not claim additional age-related allowances because of complex rules, 36% do not understand their tax obligations (cf. to 26% of all taxpayers) and queries from older people to HMRC take twice as long as other queries because of these complexities. As a group, older people are generally less aware of tax issues and less likely to contact HMRC for help. TOP operates across the UK through (1) a team of 662 local volunteers drawn from the tax profession who give their time free-of-charge to run tax surgeries in user-friendly and accessible venues (e.g. AgeUK, libraries, CABx etc). The volunteers also make home visits where clients are isolated because of caring commitments, disability, transport difficulties or geography (2) a ‚Äúlo-call‚Äù telephone help-line staffed by 8 advisors, trained to a very high standard in personal tax issues, who resolve many queries on the spot, arrange appointments for home visits and surgeries and refer clients to relevant agencies if other needs are detected (3) 10 part-time Regional Co-ordinators who recruit and train new volunteers, liaise with voluntary and statutory agencies in their area and promote TOP to increase take-up, run pre-retirement tax courses and train AgeUK (formerly Help the Aged and Age Concern) Society of Later Life Advisers and CABx staff and volunteers in simple tax matters. This enables staff from these agencies to help even more clients. Each year TOP claws back around ¬£500,000 in refunds/remissions for some of the UK's poorest households, helps around 15,000 people, answers 18,000 calls, runs 1,700 surgeries in over 300 venues and carries out 1,000 home visits. Our experience of dealing with low-income pensioners shows that having peace of mind from knowing that they have a right relationship with HMRC (and will not face censure or legal process e.g.) has a huge impact on their emotional well-being. Even if they pay more tax as a result of our help, giving peace of mind is the most important benefit of our work. We are also active in training individuals in tax matters, staff from other agencies in tax advice, producing booklets and other helps, advocacy and close consultation with HMRC (and other agencies) on improving the accessibility of the tax system. It is an indication of the respect HMRC has for TOP that they provide unique and rapid access via confidential telephone contact facilities for resolution of client problems. The Pension Service also regularly refers clients to TOP, acknowledging our tax expertise in dealing with older people and their concerns. TOP is extremely cost effective with all services offered at an annual cost of just over ¬£270,000. The actual commercial value of our advice is an estimated ¬£2.5 million pa so we run our services at a tenth of their real cost. Our costs include a) salaries of Helpline staff (¬£77,800), b) salaries of 10 Regional Coordinators (¬£56,000), c) salaries for management, consultancy, advocacy and administration (¬£64,800), d) Cost of Surgeries and Home visits (rental/travel/sundry) (¬£38,000), e) Rent/Rates/Repairs/Insurance (¬£17,850), f) Printing and Post (¬£10,000), g) Telephone and Utilities (¬£6,900). Total: ¬£271,350.
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