Friday, 1 March 2013

Disingenuous HMRC

Last June I mentioned a lady on whose behalf I had made a claim under ESC A19. She had visited the local office of HMRC, back when they had one, to ensure that her tax would be dealt with correctly following the recent death of her husband. Her claim for relief from a quite considerable amount of back tax owing as a result of HMRC's failure to act following her visit was turned down.

On behalf of my client at the end of May 2012 I appealed against the decision. At this stage it was by making a formal complaint given that the relief requested is actually discretionary as far as HMRC is concerned.

I had heard nothing from HMRC by September so I telephoned and was advised that the matter had been “brought forward” which is Civil Service speak for not actually having done anything but not yet lost the file or record. I called subsequently without getting news of further progress, and again after the January tax return rush was over. I was then told by the call centre that I would get a call back from the relevant office within five working days.

I did get a call back within two days from a Complaints Officer. The conversation went something like this:

Complaints Officer (CO) “We replied to your letter of 30th May last July. Did you not receive it?”
Me: “No.”
CO: I think it was probably never sent. I will fax you a copy. You won't be surprised to learn that your request for relief (under ESC A19) has been turned down again”.
Me: “Why was I told in September that the record had been brought forward if a letter had been sent?”
CO: “Because your client has complained to her MP so we kept it open.”

So I received the faxed letter with the date “July 2012” but no actual day typed or written in, so it is fair to assume that the letter was indeed never sent and that Royal Mail are not to blame.

The reasons the further request for relief have been turned down include that the end-of-year pension providers' PAYE Returns submitted in May each year do not count as information HMRC could reasonably have used although they “appreciate how tempting it is to assume these immediately become available for ESC A19's purposes.” Well, blow me, if someone send me an email, letter or fax that I actually receive (unlike HMRC's letter) I have the information and it is my fault if I neglect to do anything with it.

The seven-month-old letter goes on to stress that the information they receive allows them up to four years to review the tax position. Well, we know that. It's the law. It has nothing to do with whether HMRC acted properly and whether they should give up the tax they did not collect in accordance with a long-established concession and precedent.

They at least concede that my client is not a liar and accept she did visit the tax office after her husband died. However according to HMRC she could not apparently have “reasonably believed” her tax affairs were in order following the issue of an incorrect coding. That assumes she would have had some knowledge of tax (something HMRC unreasonably wishes to impute on all taxpayers in a recent consultation on the concession) and that her understanding was not skewed in the trauma of bereavement.

My client and I are not leaving it there and we will return to the fray. We have further grounds for complaint in their not sending the letter and not mentioning it over the telephone two months after it had been typed and left on file, unsigned. Of course the whole letter is complete and utter nonsense arguing in the face of what would have been a simple case of allowing the relief if a request had been made in 2010 or earlier.

There is no doubt that HMRC has sent round a memo instructing that all claims be turned down on whatever grounds. Their correspondence is disingenuous and frankly, they might as well abolish the concession altogether rather than just change it, if they are intending to turn down all future claims.

HMRC need not be afraid of one bad write-up in the Daily Mail if they even get one. After all, the politicians and the public have too much fun bashing the multi-nationals for sensible tax planning, and for whatever reason this tax abuse of small taxpayers who are mostly pensioners is being largely ignored by the media. It seems that politicians who count in this matter are not going to help.

Isn't it all a disgrace?