HMRC needs to 'humanise' itself to remove the 'taxman' tag, says its comms director

The HMRC has to present a more human face if it is to rid itself of the negative connotations of the 'taxman' image, according to its director of comms, Poli Stuart-Lacey.

HMRC: Poli Stuart-Lacey, director of communications, is keen to get rid of the department's 'taxman' image
HMRC: Poli Stuart-Lacey, director of communications, is keen to get rid of the department's 'taxman' image

In an interview with PRWeek, Stuart-Lacey expressed her concern over the way many people perceive the government department.

"People often use the reference 'taxman' when they talk about us and I find that really frustrating, because I don’t in any way relate to that reference."

She added: "It doesn’t represent the diversity and huge range of capabilities that we’ve got in the department."

In terms of changing perceptions, she thinks that "humanising the face of HMRC" and "personalising what we do" is important.

The image of "an old-fashioned and bureaucratic organisation" does not reflect "the reality of what I see within", she added.

However, she admitted: "The public don’t really know who we are. I think there’s quite a thick wall around HMRC which makes the ‘brown envelope’ represent us."

Stuart-Lacey is one of Britain’s most experienced government comms chiefs, having headed comms for the Cabinet Office and the Department for International Trade during her 18-year Whitehall career. She has also worked in the Department for Education, the Home Office, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The comms veteran wants HMRC to be perceived as the "modern, diverse, talented, and really committed, dedicated organisation that I can see around me."

The issue of the HMRC brand should not be reduced to the functions of the Whitehall department, she said.

"It’s not just our purpose of bringing in the money that pays for public services, it’s the sort of sum of who we are and how people think about us."

Stuart-Lacey added that it is "personal experience" of dealing with HMRC "that defines our brand from many people."

It’s not just a question of improving perceptions, but also considering new ways of doing things, according to the comms chief.

"Do we always need to communicate through letter or can we take a more ‘self-help’ approach to videos, such as how to do self-assessment?"

Another challenge is finding a way to "cut through the complexity" of HMRC’s work while improving its communications.

"It’s really important [to be] as efficient and as effective as we possibly can, but also human, and that’s what I think is missing from those [old-style] letters," she said.

Now read our full profile interview with Poli Stuart-Lacey, in which she talks about HMRC in the media, the spirit of collaboration which drives her work and women in comms leadership.

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