So, you thought the Spanish tax office was hard to deal with…


I couldn’t resist writing this article as I have just spent 3 hours trying to contact HMRC (the UK tax office for you lucky non-UK persons) to get them to stop deducting income tax from my pension. They shouldn’t do this because I have lived and worked in Spain for 35 years, which they would know if they could be bothered to check my records.

In the end I had to give up for the sake of my sanity.

This article is therapeutic as it allows me to moan about the not so wonderful people who manage HMRC and get rid of some of the stress they caused me.

It really was the stuff of nightmares. Think of the books 1984 by George Orwell and Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. These days I take extra care to keep my blood pressure down and try to avoid stressful situations. Smile and be happy!

The last time I had to deal with HMRC on a personal matter was just before Covid so I can readily compare the quality of service difference to today. Reading the UK press confirms that the cause of my depressing experience is that many state employees have become decidedly work shy, almost never going to their offices to work, preferring the comfort of working at home. Except of course when they sneak off during working hours for a bit of shopping, dog walking, gym or child care. All wonderful activities but not exactly conducive to high productivity and fabulous customer service. No wonder UK productivity statistics are falling off the graph!

Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales publishes article in corroboration (optimistic!) in my experience at least.

In the UK taxpayers are actually called customers (?!¿¡), no doubt in an attempt to make the miserable and abused population feel a bit warmer towards civil servants that now pocket and spend about 52% of the the countries GDP, with one tax or another.

At least in Spain we are called ‘Los Administrados’ and ‘Los Sujetos Pasivos’. No messing about in our sunny climate – they call a spade a spade!

The other change I noticed was the HMRC automated phone response. The most important part of the message was to tell me that abusive behaviour would not be tolerated and what a wonderfully diverse team they now are. There is now no doubt, Gen Z has taken over the UK!!

Another reason to be glad of living in Spain.

Unfortunately, despite the message also telling me, most enthusiastically, that they are committed to solving problems and providing a fabulous service, the last part of the message informed me that they are very busy and the time it would take to answer my call was likely to exceed 45 minutes.

The computer pretending to be a person then went on to assure me that I could resolve everything online and told me that instead of waiting on the phone, I could use an HMRC app on my phone or laptop.

Being reasonably computer literate, I thought this was a good idea so I spent the next two hours trying to set both of these up. The phone app simply crashed each time I tried to use my identification code, provided to me by using the identification software that I also had to download from HMRC. The laptop system required me to identify myself with a UK driving licence picture or UK credit history information, both of which are completely impossible as I have lived and worked in Spain full time for over 35 years.

I would have been perfectly happy to write to the HMRC department concerned but, could I find an address for this purpose? Of course not.

I tried HMRC’s UK phone number again and the time delay was still 45 minutes so I realised I really had to stop this nonsense.

I will have to contact one of the nice UK tax advisers we deal with for clients’ UK tax management so that they can sort out the PAYE code error on my UK pension. Apparently they have a line of communication that mere people cannot use.

Give me the Spanish tax system anytime. It may take a few minutes online to book an appointment to see someone in the local tax office, but you can still meet a human being, face to face, and sort out something as simple as this in a few minutes. Many are actually very pleasant too, despite being superior beings that have to spend their time sorting out ‘Sujetos Pasivos’.

See Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales article

Spence Clarke specialises in the provision of Spanish tax, accounts, law and labour services, mainly to foreigners with interests in Spain. Our cross-border knowledge helps clients adapt to the Spanish system with the minimum of doubt and disruption. If you have any questions about this article or any other matter contact us, with no obligation, to see how we can help you.