After winning a case on behalf of a client in which HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) was forced to back down and write-off more than £2,000 of previously demanded tax, Elaine Clark of CheapAccounting.co.uk has accused the tax office of not applying its own rules correctly.
“This is a terrible case. [The taxpayer] receives incapacity benefit as well as an NHS pension,” Elaine said. “HMRC was informed of the two sources of income by the Benefits Agency and the NHS, but did not act on the information provided.”
Elaine claimed under the provisions of Extra Statutory Concession A19. The full version of the concession is quite lengthy, but basically it says the tax office must waive tax owed in certain circumstances if it makes a mistake. You could claim if:
- HMRC failed to act on information it had
- that failure lead to a tax underpayment
- it did not say how much was owed by the end of the tax year after the mistake was made
- it was reasonable for you to think everything was in order.
(If the tax office made more than one error, the time limit may not apply.)
If you have been sent a bill and you feel this applies to you, then you may wish to seek further advice. Alternatively, there are a number of draft letters available online. (Search for “Sample letter ESC A19”.)
HMRC correctly said it could not comment on individual cases and that the concession would in all likelihood apply only to a small number of cases.
The problem arises because our tax laws place the onus squarely with the individual. Basically, if your tax is wrong, it’s your fault – even if you were not aware of the situation or if the tax office made mistakes. This is clearly ludicrous, especially given the complexities of our tax laws.
Which is why we have ESC A19. It is an incredibly powerful clause – without it HMRC would be almost unaccountable. Six million people could be affected by recent mistakes by the tax office, through no fault of their own, so the usual rules should not apply. Television programmes such as Panorama and cases such as this have highlighted the problem.
Elaine is right – HMRC is failing to instigate the concession when it could do. It is an Extra Statutory Concession that is being debated, so surely it is not beyond HMRC’s remit to introduce a temporary measure – something as simple as sending out a slip inviting a claim, with space for the relevant details perhaps.
Ethically, this would be the right thing to do, but it would of course cost HMRC and by default the government.
Julian Shaw, Founder of The Practice Hub