The Edmondson Blog

Dear Mr.Addison

This is one of those emails that has gone viral - people receive it, have a good laugh and send it on to all their friends, who then do the same and send it on to more and more friends. You may already have received it. The email goes something like:

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A real reply from the Inland Revenue. The Guardian newspaper had to ask for special permission to print it. The funniest part of this is imagining the content of the letter sent to the Tax Office which prompted this reply!

Dear Mr Addison,

I am writing to you to express our thanks for your more than prompt reply to our latest communication, and also to answer some of the points you raise. I will address them, as ever, in order.

Firstly, I must take issue with your description of our last as a "begging letter". It might perhaps more properly be referred to as a "tax demand". This is how we at the Inland Revenue have always, for reasons of accuracy, traditionally referred to such documents.

Secondly, your frustration at our adding to the "endless stream of crapulent whining and panhandling vomited daily through the letterbox on to the doormat" has been noted. However, whilst I have naturally not seen the other letters to which you refer I would cautiously suggest that their being from "pauper councils, Lombardy pirate banking houses and pissant gas-mongerers" might indicate that your decision to "file them next to the toilet in case of emergencies" is at best a little ill-advised. In common with my own organisation, it is unlikely that the senders of these letters do see you as a "lackwit bumpkin" or, come to that, a "sodding charity". More likely they see you as a citizen of Great Britain, with a responsibility to contribute to the upkeep of the nation as a whole.

Which brings me to my next point. Whilst there may be some spirit of truth in your assertion that the taxes you pay "go to shore up the canker-blighted, toppling folly that is the Public Services", a moment's rudimentary calculation ought to disabuse you of the notion that the government in any way expects you to "stump up for the whole damned party" yourself. The estimates you provide for the Chancellor's disbursement of the funds levied by taxation, whilst colourful, are, in fairness, a little off the mark. Less than you seem to imagine is spent on "junkets for Bunterish lickspittles" and "dancing whores" whilst far more than you have accounted for is allocated to, for example, "that box-ticking facade of a university system."

A couple of technical points arising from direct queries:
  1. The reason we don't simply write "Muggins" on the envelope has to do with the vagaries of the postal system;
  2. You can rest assured that "sucking the very marrow of those with nothing else to give" has never been considered as a practice because even if the Personal Allowance didn't render it irrelevant, the sheer medical logistics involved would make it financially unviable.
I trust this has helped. In the meantime, whilst I would not in any way wish to influence your decision one way or the other, I ought to point out that even if you did choose to "give the whole foul jamboree up and go and live in India" you would still owe us the money.

Please send it to us by Friday.

Yours sincerely,

H J Lee
Customer Relations
Inland Revenue

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The reality is even more funny. If you seach H J Lee (the supposed signatory to the letter) on Google you will find this piece from The Guardian from Saturday 31 January 2004:

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How Jobs & Money fooled the world

A spoof letter, supposedly written to columnist Chris Addison by an Inland Revenue official, went further than we anticipated, writes Patrick Collinson.

It began as a spoof letter from the Inland Revenue written for Jobs & Money by back-page columnist, comedian Chris Addison. But, plucked (unauthorised, we'd add) from The Guardian's website, it has found its way into countless emails and websites across the world. You've may even have seen it in your own email box, telling you it's a "real" letter from the taxman.

The letter has spun its way on to websites from Finland to New Zealand, been reprinted in newspapers and featured in internet forums. Chat rooms in the US bemoan the fact their own Internal Revenue Service does not have the same sense of humo(u)r as those whacky Brits. One talked of the "deliciously understated" civil servant and the equally over-stated writer.

In its oddest manifestation, it even found its way back via email to Addison himself.

"It had evidently been forwarded through a number of people, each of whom had blunderbussed the thing to their entire address book. Several of my friends also received it from different sources," he says.

"I don't know what's weirder - the coincidence of somebody sending you your own writing without realising it, or the sheer stupidity of the person who originally started sending it about in the belief that it was a real letter. I can only hope nobody took up the advice on starting a small business that I doled out."

That the fake letter has found so many believers suggests we'd rather prefer it if the Inland Revenue wrote to us in this way. Even the Adam Smith Institute, bastion of right-wing economics, fell for the letter. On the think-tank's website, its president, Dr Madsen Pirie, called it a "model of manners", adding that "courtesy costs little, but it can act as a soothing oil to lubricate some of the rougher edges of modern life - even tax demands. I think its politeness is commendable."

The Mail on Sunday liked it too. We will spare the blushes of the reporter from that newspaper who rang us at Jobs & Money to ask for a contact number for Mr HJ Lee - the entirely fictitious Inland Revenue employee created by Mr Addison.

On a website called Commonsense & Wonder based (we believe) in the US, the Addison letter reappears with the comment: "You have to credit the British sense of humor, the IRS would probably knock down your door and haul you off in response to the same. Anyway, this is the funniest letter I have ever seen from a government bureaucrat."

In case you didn't see the column first time round, you can read it here. And remember, if you filed your genuine correspondence from the taxman next to the toilet in case of emergencies, this weekend is the final deadline for filling in self-assessment tax forms.

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