Weekly Reflection – Personally Speaking

05 April 2024

Less than a week after Easter Day the new tax year has begun. Anyone who is required to file a tax return for HMRC will be busy gathering the documentation necessary to complete the task in good time. Or perhaps not: the deadline for tax returns is not until 31 January next year and, if past records are anything to go by, nearly 50% of people will not have completed their return by the start of next year. Tax returns are complicated, of course, and there are many reasons why people might want to talk with HMRC staff about what is needed. So the announcement a couple of weeks ago that the helpline run by HMRC would not, in future, be operating between April and September – exactly the months in which people are most likely to need help – caused much concern. Questions were raised in Parliament, and the decision was speedily reversed (for this year at least). The Chief Executive of HMRC, Jim Harra, stated ‘We’ve listened to the feedback and we’re halting the helpline changes’.

Good for Mr Harra. But the concern over the original decision to close the helpline should not have been a surprise to him, or indeed to anyone. An online chat function will never be an adequate substitute for speaking to a human being. Quite apart from the fact that neither a chatbot nor a series of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ seems ever to get you very far, human interaction is the of the essence of what it means to be – well, human. The gradual erosion of the possibility of such interactions in many areas of life diminishes our humanity and makes us ever less curious about the world and one another. The Good News of Easter, which we celebrated with such joy last Sunday, would never have had such a seismic impact two millennia ago if it had been communicated digitally. Only the flesh and blood witness of the first apostles was able adequately to communicate the deep meaning of the world-changing events of that first Easter Day. The same is true for us, their successors, in our time. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

With Easter greetings,
Dean Simon

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