Monday, 15 February 2010

Sweet charity!

A few blogs ago ('Give over, Gordon!', 6th January, 2010), I railed against the insane hoops charity shops have to jump through to claim the tax on the money they make from selling your unwanted shirts, books and DVDs. 

Any donor who pays income tax is invited to fill in a Gift Aid form with a unique code number.  A sticker with that number is then attached to every one of their donated items.  Once everything's been sold, the shop informs HM Revenue and Customs of the total raised and claims the extra 28%.  It is a bureaucratic nightmare; the assistant at my charity shop told me she spends at least three hours a week at the computer punching in the codes.  And goodness knows how much it is costing the taxpayer for civil servants to process the claims from all the UK's charity shops, probably far more than the relatively trivial amounts being paid out to many of the charities.

The simple way to deal with this would, of course, be to declare charitable donations tax-free.  Why on earth should they be taxed in the first place?  Because there is never enough money in the kitty to pay for all the public services we have come to expect and rely on, I suppose, and the Government is desperate to claw in cash from wherever it can.  Nevertheless, it seems a particularly low piece of stooping.

I'm blogging about it again because today I received a letter from my local charity shop which reveals that the situation is even crazier than I realised.

Not only does the shop have to go through the nonsense I've already listed, it is also required to write to me every time it makes a Gift Aid claim.  If it doesn't, the Scrooge-like automatons at HM Revenue and Customs won't cough up the additional 28%.  The shop can either wait until every item I donated has been sold, thus delaying receipt of the tax money which is rightfully theirs, or it can claim every so often as my unwanted Christmas and birthday presents gradually find new homes but it must apply to HMRC and write to me every single time.

And get this: I can choose to reclaim the proceeds from the sale!  The good-hearted volunteers at the charity shop are required by law to inform me, again in writing, that I can change my mind and swell my own coffers rather than those of the charity.

You might think it unfair that the shop can be forced to hand the cash over when it has invested time, labour and expense in washing and ironing, labelling, displaying and finally selling my stuff, but don't worry, the Government has thought of that: I have to pay the shop an administration fee....OF ONE PER CENT!  My items made £25.64 so, by my reckoning, if I chose to be a capricious, tight-fisted old so-and-so, I could demand £25.37 simply for having donated and dropped off the goods, leaving the shop with all of 27 pence for doing all the rest.

All over the country, kind-hearted souls are giving their time to raise money for the sick, old and disadvantaged.  Their work receives little attention and is decidedly short on glamour - would you relish laundering a stranger's clothes?  How they keep going in the face of such spiteful provocation, I've no idea.

And how the pen-pushers at Revenue and Customs sleep at night, even if they are just following orders, I find equally baffling.

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