For the last few years HMRC have ramped up their tackling of aggressive tax avoidance, and so understandably it has become common for users of such schemes to vent their anger on public forums. Examples of posts include;
-“…despite all they promised, it looks like they has left me/us to deal with HMRC by ourselves….”
-“…they told me their arrangement was all above board and HMRC compliant..”
“..I would sue them for miss-selling but they did a bunk in the middle of the night and now don’t answer their phones…”
This can be examples of what psychologists call “victim language” and it got us wondering about what might lie ahead for people who continue to view the situation through that harmful lens longer term. We start firstly with a couple of caveats.
Firstly, we understand how feelings run high in these high pressure situations (for example receiving an APN) so we take those feelings of fear and anger into account. In some cases the amount of money being demanded is life-changing.
Secondly, the need to point the finger at others when something goes wrong is natural – indeed scientists recently discovered a part of the brain they believe dictates that emotional response when something goes wrong. The challenge comes when that sense of anger isn’t discharged over time and matures into vitriol/hatred for those that perceived to have placed the individual in that difficult situation.
Tens of thousands of scheme users are now being pursued by HMRC for additional tax payment and if they are reading this they might want to look away now.
What if these users were somehow complicit in the situation?
We are all far more vulnerable to being coerced than we might think. Most salespeople earn a living from hitting targets (be it selling schemes, used cars or switching energy providers) and so execute a type of minor con. Inserting truth into a pitch will likely result in no sale – especially in an unregulated industry like tax avoidance.
We don’t go into details in this article about psychological influence tactics used but suffice to say it typically involves the buyer being promised access to benefits/features they very much desire.
Advertising and marketing have used this to exploit people for years. In the case of tax avoidance schemes, this is the promise of retaining (for example) 90% of their contract value. Who wouldn’t find that a very powerful lever?
If you feel my piety is becoming a little hard to stomach, then it is confession time. This author considers himself a skeptical and logical adult who wouldn’t give my hard earned cash to a complete stranger in return for promises of something I desired.
However, I once did and so speak from painful experience how easy it is allow your heart (in my case it was wanting tickets to a cup final football match) to rule your head (which repeatedly told me not to buy the tickets remotely from someone I had never met).
The old cliché of “if it seems too good to be true then it probably is..” is a cliché for a reason – it is true! For weeks after the con, I was desperate for revenge on the seller (the police were no help whatsoever) and I allowed my hatred for the seller to consume me.
However, in time I realised if I was going to end the sense of suffering, I had to reframe my language from that of a victim to that of a creator. That meant taking responsibility for my actions – because after all it was me that had shut off the bit of my brain that was sending me warning signals that the transaction was doomed. It was a painful but valuable self-intervention.
Anyway, back to users of schemes tempted to carry on kicking the can down the road and laying the blame for the tax bills elsewhere.
The huge sense of empowerment I felt when I accepted my share of the responsibility for being in that position was incredibly liberating. I have since used that same strategy in other stressful situations (regardless of whether it was my fault or not) in order to help me take back control and get on with my life. I owed it to myself not go on wearing the “hurt shirt”.
It might well surprise many how powerful the results can be – and perhaps Master Yoda was correct when he said about fear leading to anger…which leads to hate…which leads to suffering.
Those legacy scheme users who feel they have carried that bag of resentment for long enough are now encouraged to set it down and try out this approach which might not be far far away from the answer.