This is the first section from the book I’m writing on complaining to HMRC during a tax investigation.
It’s written in a Passnotes / Q & A style – I’ve found that’s the best way to put across complex information in an accessible format.
All feedback welcome.
Quick start guide: what HMRC says about complaining plus all the extra stuff that you should know.
What do HMRC say about complaining?
At the start of the investigation you should have been given a factsheet called ‘complaints’. This is a two-page document that outlines the complaint process according to HMRC. You can download a copy here. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/putting-things-right-how-to-complain-factsheet-cfs
The second paragraph of the factsheet reads:
“If you are unhappy with our service, please let us know as soon as possible. We can usually put things right quickly if you phone the person or office you have been dealing with.”
What? I’m being investigated and they are calling it a service?
I know right? Let’s break this whole paragraph down; not only are HMRC calling the investigation a service, they are also saying if there is anything wrong they’ll ‘usually’ be able to sort it out with a phone call. Wow.
So you’re saying that a quick phone call is not going to end this nightmare then?
That’s right. The most important information about complaining is left off this (so called) factsheet; there is no mention of – for example – the Tax Tribunals, the use of discretion, Alternative Dispute Resolution or ESC A19 and at no point does it say you can complain at any time (not just at the end of the investigation) doesn’t say that you can contact your MP at any time. Or that you can look at HMRC written standards and if they are falling below their own benchmarks that you can challenge them.
Woah! There was a lot of stuff in that last paragraph!
Yes. We’ll be going back over these things again and again in this ebook – particularly in the toolbox section. For this quick start section let me give you a paragraph on three of the most important complaining tools.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is run by HMRC – but the team that runs it is independent of your investigation. In cases of deadlock they can be invited in to mediate. It’s natural to be sceptical about HMRC bringing in their own people but the ADR team have a good track record of resolving cases. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tax-disputes-alternative-dispute-resolution-adr
The Tax Tribunals are independent of HMRC and you can go to them for a ruling at any point in the investigation. If HMRC is asking for documents that they are not entitled to see you can say, “If you are going to push this we’ll take it to the Tax Tribunal” and they can give a ruling on it. The Tribunal can also put pressure on HMRC to close a case down. So if HMRC have found nothing wrong after 12 months, but are refusing to close the case you can go to the Tribunal and they will set a deadline. More on them here: https://www.gov.uk/tax-tribunal/overview
Extra Statutory Concession A19 – establishes the principle that if you have given HMRC information that they have failed to act on then it’s their fault. Equally if you’ve gone to HMRC and they’ve given you bad advice – which you’ve then acted on – that again is on them. HMRC will argue that they are infallible, even if they’ve give you bad advice it’s still not their responsibility. The bottom line is – they will argue – your tax return is your responsibility. But ESC A19 challenges that.
OK, that was three, what about the rest?
There will be more detail to follow – particularly in the Toolbox section –what I’m trying to put across here is that HMRCs ‘factsheet’ about complaining is narrow and misleading. There are many more ways to complain and some can be extremely effective.