HMRC: Open and Honest? Take our Poll
TaxationWeb's Mark McLaughlin thinks HMRC will irreparably damage its reputation if it has in fact forbidden its staff to waive tax when they make a mistake. (ESC A19)
There is an excellent article in 'Taxation' magazine this week ('Jumping the Gun'), about HM Revenue & Customs' (HMRC) Extra Statutory Concession A19 (ESC A19). The article was written by a good friend of mine, Paul McKay, who is Corporate and Business Tax Director at Booth Ainsworth in Stockport.
ESC A19 broadly states that HMRC may give up taxpayer arrears of income tax and capital gains tax if HMRC fail to make timely use of information supplied, and where certain alternative conditions are satisfied, as set out in the concession (see Extra Statutory Concessions).
HMRC issued a consultation document Extra-Statutory Concession A19 Review on 3 July 2012. It appears that HMRC is seeking to restrict the scope of the concession, which would have the effect of reducing the number of successful ESC A19 applications. The consultation period ends on 24 September 2012.
I know from discussions with Paul McKay that his article was triggered partly out of frustration at an apparent change of approach recently by HMRC to claims under ESC A19 on behalf of taxpayers. An increasing number of applications are apparently being rejected by HMRC, which would probably have been accepted (say) 12 months ago. The implication is that HMRC may be applying the more restricted version of ESC A19 in its consultation document, even before the consultation period has ended.
I was particularly disturbed by the following comment in Paul's article:
"In telephone discussions the majority of Revenue officials at the sharp end have been apologetic and one has been open enough to confirm that instructions have come down from head office to reject all ESC A19 requests with the threat of disciplinary action if accepted."
If that is correct, I am appalled. I can do no better than endorse Paul's conclusion at the end of his article:
"I am sorry to say that I believe that this is just another reflection on the underhand, cynical and aggressive stance currently being adopted by HMRC and one which I am even sorrier to say that we will all need to learn how to operate within."
Paul made a Freedom of Information Act application for details of HMRC's policy concerning ESC A19. This application was initially turned down, but he has appealed against that decision. Paul has promised to keep me informed of developments, and this will hopefully form the basis for a future article on TaxationWeb.
Please feel free to take our Poll: Has HMRC Crossed the Line with ESC A19? - Ed