HMRC: From bad to worse?

By | 29 June 2021

Some taxpayers seem to consider that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) does whatever it wants. Of course, that is not the case. For example, there are certain conditions and exceptions about when HMRC can request information and documents from taxpayers.

Out with the ‘old’…

In addition, HMRC’s ‘customers’ are protected by ‘The HMRC Charter’. There is a statutory requirement for the Charter to “…include standards of behaviour and values to which [HMRC] will aspire when dealing with people in the exercise of their functions” (CRCA 2005, s 16A(2)).

HMRC’s latest Charter at the time of writing was published on 5 November 2020 (see below). The previous Charter featured seven taxpayer ‘rights’:

  1. ‘Respect you and treat you as honest;
  2. Provide a helpful, efficient and effective service;
  3. Be professional and act with integrity;
  4. Protect your information and respect your privacy;
  5. Accept that someone else can represent you;
  6. Deal with complaints quickly and fairly;
  7. Tackle those who bend or break the rules.’

Some of these rights were particularly helpful, depending on the circumstances. For example, the taxpayer had the express right to be treated as honest (unless it was proven otherwise).

…in with the ‘new’

The replacement Charter (www.gov.uk/government/publications/hmrc-charter/the-hmrc-charter) sets out the following standards to which HMRC aspire in respect of its services:

  • Getting things right;
  • Making things easy;
  • Being responsive;
  • Treating you fairly;
  • Being aware of your personal situation;
  • Recognising that someone can represent you;
  • Keeping your data secure.

The ‘new’ Charter was subject to a government consultation process. Some tax practitioners expressed concern at some of the changes included in the draft Charter, prior to the consultation closing.

New and improved?

Is the current Charter any better for taxpayers than the ‘old’ one? Arguably not. The phrase ’treat you as honest’ has disappeared, albeit that under ‘treating you fairly’ it states: “We’ll assume you’re telling the truth, unless we’ve good reason to think you’re not.”

In addition, the ‘new’ Charter does not state that taxpayers will be dealt with by HMRC officers “who have the right level of expertise”.

However, on a more positive note:

  • There is an assurance that “[HMRC will] help you meet your tax responsibilities”;
  • HMRC undertakes to “…explain…when you can expect a response from us”;
  • HMRC’s aim is to make its services “…accessible, easy and quick to use, minimising the cost to you.”.

These changes could potentially be helpful, such as where the taxpayer is subject to a self-assessment tax return enquiry; HMRC should be reminded of these commitments if it appears that the enquiry is becoming unduly protracted.

Practical point

Apply The HMRC Charter to your dealings with HMRC. Do not be afraid to let HMRC officers know if you consider their treatment to fall short of Charter standards. If that does not work, consider making a formal complaint (see www.gov.uk/complain-about-hmrc). In addition, the Adjudicator’s Office (www.adjudicatorsoffice.gov.uk) is an independent body that investigates complaints about HMRC maladministration, although complaints regarding enquiries and investigations will only be investigated after they have ended.

The above article was first published in Tax Insider (July 2020) (www.taxinsider.co.uk).