A COUPLE harassed by the taxman over a £15,000 bill were finally told: We owe you money.
But the Inland Revenue offered Robert and Christine Wailes just £25 compensation for their ordeal.
Now their case is to be taken up in an internal investigation by Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs service.
The Mirfield couple’s nightmare lasted for more than seven months and at one point, they had a debt collector hammering on the door of their home.
They also claim the demands caused them to have many sleepless nights.
Mr Wailes, 63, a retired shoe salesman, and his wife, aged 64, said their problems began early last year when they received a bill from the Inland Revenue for £7,000.
Both were adamant they owed nothing and told the taxman in writing. But three weeks later, they received another letter saying they now owed £11,000.
It was not long before they received a visit from the debt collection agency, claiming the bill had now risen to £15,000.
Mr Wailes said that they had tried repeatedly to convince the taxman they owed nothing but heard nothing for weeks.
The couple’s own accountant rang the tax office and wrote several letters but the demands persisted.
But then the Inland Revenue finally admitted that mistakes had been made and they actually owed him £800.
Mr Wailes protested about the treatment meted out to him and his wife and after three months got a reply.
But that said simply that the paperwork had been lost and included a cheque for just £25.
Mr Wailes said: "To add insult to injury, the letter of explanation included a sentence with the word ‘sorry’ blanked out.
"They don’t know how to use the word ‘sorry’.
"They told us they had lost our paperwork twice and then they wrote that letter."
The couple’s case was one of several featured last night on ITV1 in a Tonight special.
There were claims that the tax system is in a "massive mess" and that mistakes are now endemic.
The programme claimed the emphasis was simply on meeting Government targets and that call centres set up to help were being swamped by hundreds of waiting calls.
One insider said: "We’ve got little time to read up on any new tax guidance.
"And we had a situation where half a million payment reminders were sent out late, meaning people were being threatened with surcharges and penalties they might not even know."
David Harnett, head of tax for HMRC, admitted that the contact centres were under pressure.
But he said the intention was to improve.
"There is more demand from people wanting to contact us than we have ever seen before and we are determined to improve our performance.
"It’s not good enough at the minute."
Mr Harnett promised to investigate the case of the Waileses.
Big cuts in staffing levels at HMRC has seen 17,000 jobs go over the past three years and more than 100 tax offices closed.
Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Philip Hammond said: "Once again the target culture is driving unacceptable behaviour.
"If these stories are true, taxpayers are being systematically cheated."