Johnny Fallon: A timely mea culpa from the taxman ... but others need to learn the lessons too
BACK in 1994 I had just started studying Business in Dundalk RTC, one of the first things that was said to us was to ‘know your audience’. Over a decade later I was studying PR and it struck me that again one of the first things we were told was ‘Know your audience’. Some things never change, some lessons are simply timeless. There is no doubt there are some good communications staff in Revenue tearing their hair out and wondering why they were not consulted before letters were sent to pensioners across the country. Years of positive image building by Revenue, who have now earned a reputation for being helpful, was thrown away in a rush job to try deal with the problem.
Of course, it seems the real blame lies with the Department of Social Protection, who had failed to notify Revenue until last November of the issue. This Department clearly had details of who was in receipt of a private pension, it is also likely that they have asked many of those pensioners on one form or another, to state the level of that private pension income. Yet it was beyond the combined talents of both bodies to identify the people who may have accumulated large arrears and to follow them while eliminating those under the tax threshold, or whose arrears are so small Revenue are not interested in following. To have taken this approach would have taken time and a bit of effort, it was far easier to let the customer do the work and have the pensioners come to you.
We know already that nobody will be held accountable for any such errors. The only people that will take any genuine flak or face any risk from it is, of course, the ministers, even though their involvement seems slight. It would however, be interesting to find out if, or when, Ministers were informed the error had taken place; what their suggestions for action were and more importantly if they at any stage signed off on the approach that Revenue took. Ministers are, after all, the representatives of the people and it is their job to be more in tune with the public than the Department itself.