Inaccurate tax coding is reckoned to result in about one in four of us paying the wrong amount of tax.
So a program that might help to reduce your tax bill looks like good news. The Consumers Association has released its updated tax calculator Which? Taxcalc 1985-86 available for both the Spectrum and QL.
The program is based closely on the tax return forms that many people are currently completing. It's in three parts, each asking questions on earnings, income, outgoings and allowances before it calculates how much tax you should have paid and whether you owe the taxman money or not. For a married couple it also calculates the effect of being taxed jointly and separately. For those aged over 65 the amount of age allowance claimable and how to offset outgoings to minimise tax are automatically calculated.
The first thing that strikes you is that - even though most of it is self-explanatory - there is no manual to help you with the questions. The program offers a source of extra explanation in the form of references to pages in the Which? Tax-Saving Guide but, this, as far as I know, is only available to subscribers of Which? magazine which costs £31 - actually quite a lot of cash.
Before starting to run the program you will need to gather together everything you can about your finances, ie P60, Building Society pass books, mortgage statement and so on. Although a summary and results can be written to a file, there is no facility for storing the date and changing or adding to it. Since many users will find they don't have all the necessary information immediately to hand the save and load data facility is vital.
The string of questions, in a simple yes/no answer format is easy to use and the questions are split into sections dealing with the various types of income, allowances and outgoings shown on the tax return forms.
The chances of making a mistake are reduced by being able to accept or reject (and edit) the entries at the end of each section.
As well as writing to a file the summary can be printed as you work through the program. While the print-out is clearly arranged, with only those items which affect the tax bill being printed, it is not immediately obvious how some of the calculated figures are arrived at, particularly the 'total income' figure. Explanations would have helped.
At £6.95 (£8.95 on the QL) for a program that is only useful for one year, and is likely to be used only once or twice, it seems expensive.
However, with a good probability that a check on your tax could save you money Taxcalc could turn out to be a better buy than it seems. It's certainly easier than trying to do the same calculations by hand.
From a presentation point of view the program is no great shakes - but then it doesn't need to be.
Publisher: Consumers' Association
Price: £6.95 (Spectrum), £8.95 (QL)