Income Tax Assessment

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Income Tax Assessment is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Evening News (Portsmouth) on 1 november 1890.

Income Tax Assessment

The Evening News (Portsmouth) (1 november 1890)

Sir, — I should like to ask through the medium of your paper whether some change might be introduced by a strong expression of public feeling, in the preposterous system of assessment. At present the infliction is divided into two stages, that of the yellow paper and that of the blue. On the yellow paper you are requested to state under a number of headings which appear to be purposely and most ingeniously contrived for the purpose of puzzling the taxpayer, what your income is, and whence derived. This you do, and return the document, prepared to pay tax on the amount which you have ascertained to he correct.

Presently the blue paper trouble begins. You receive your tax paper, and find that the Assessor has had the insufferable impertinance to disregard your return completely, and to assess you at a purely arbitrary sum, fixed by himself. It amounts to this that income tax is levied not upon a man's income, but upon what some gentleman or gentlemen in the background considers that a man's income ought to be. Would it not be better for this gentleman to put forward his guess in the first instance, and so avoid the farce of the yellow paper altogether. Such an arrangement would save both time and temper, for it takes time to accurately fill a complicated form, and it is a little trying to the temper to have it tacitly assumed that one's statement is a misrepresentation.

And then you are assured that it is open to you to appeal. But what does appealing mean? It means standing before a quorum of one's fellow citizens, like a prisoner before magistrates, and going through the humiliating ordeal of exposing one's private books, and most intimate personal concerns to their criticism. The assessor, when he takes such a liberty as to alter the return which is sent to him, must know very well that nine out of ten of his victims would rather suffer an injustice than have it redressed by such a means. I recollect that some years ago, on the occasion of the assessor's guess being peculiarly outrageous, I took the trouble t° appeal, and, of course, obtained my reduction, but three times the sum would not tempt me to go through the experience again.

If the Assessor has fault to find with the figures returned to him, then the onus of disproving them rests with him. But to ignore the taxpayer's return, and to place him in the dilemma of either suffering an injustice, or of going through a degrading ordeal is all intolerable scandal, and one which can only be removed by some wide and forcible expression of public opinion.

I remain, sir, faithfully yours,