Simon Shaw decided to combine his skills in maths and law to work for the Inland Revenue as a tax inspector – making sure people pay the right amount of tax, not too much and not too little.
Can you describe your role?
I am responsible for conducting enquiries into tax returns that are sent to the Inland Revenue by self-employed people. The work is very much like that of a detective, only with figures instead.
How do you do it?
I look through the figures on the tax return and check them with the supporting accounts. I may also have to invite the person in for a meeting, where I shall talk to them about their business activities during the year.
What is a typical week like?
At present, I spend a day each week at the Inland Revenue training centre during my tax training period. Another day sees me interviewing a taxpayer, which means that I have to thoroughly prepare the questions and areas that I wish to ask about.
During the week, I may also have to visit the business premises of another taxpayer. This helps me understand how the business works. The rest of the time is spent in the office reviewing accounting records or studying my learning material.
How do you use maths in your role?
I have to rely on my maths to produce accurate figures when reviewing records and carrying out certain tests. At the end of an investigation, I have to be certain that the final figures I have calculated are correct. After studying maths at GCSE and A level, I am able to do this.
I would not have made it through the recruitment process without my maths skills, as many of the selection tests involved numbers and graphs.
What other qualities and skills do you need to be a tax inspector?
You need to be able to look at the bigger picture. If you find something that doesn't add up, or if receipts and expenses appear unusual, you have to think why that is.
You need to be confident and be people-friendly, as you have to interview taxpayers face-to-face sometimes and question them about a particular problem. You need to react to their responses and think of further questions on your feet.
What do you like about your work?
I like getting to know about individuals and their businesses. You get to learn a lot about how different people live their lives. I also enjoy the investigative side.
What do you find challenging?
The challenge is getting to the end of an investigation and achieving a successful conclusion. There are some people who simply make mistakes. You make them aware of what they have done wrong, explain what they should have done and correct it.
How do you see your career developing?
I want to continue to work for the Inland Revenue, as there are many areas to specialise in. It is also possible for tax inspectors to move over to the private sector, working in tax consultancy.
Simon's route to his job as a tax inspector
- A levels in mathematics, English and French.
- Degree in Law.
- Applied to the Inland Revenue and was accepted.
- You should not underestimate the skills you learn from other jobs. Before I started at the Inland Revenue, I worked in a supermarket, keeping control of the takings of the store. This 'counting' practice helped me pass the Inland Revenue selection tests and get the job.
- Try to get some work experience to see if it's really for you.
Salary of a tax inspector
- Starting pay for new recruits is about £17,510.
- Experienced tax inspectors earn up to £28,750 and senior tax inspectors earn up to £57,380.
How to become a tax inspector
- Currently, the Inland Revenue recruits graduates into the Civil Service Fast Stream Programme. You need to hold a minimum of a second class honours degree or equivalent to enter the programme.
- It is also possible to become a tax inspector by joining the Department at clerical level and gaining promotion through assessment and examinations.
- Tax inspector training initially takes about 12 months. However, senior tax inspectors undertake a four-year structured training and development programme, which allows them to develop a wide range of knowledge and experience.
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