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HMRC Bad-mouthing Accountants

Our client, a typical subbie on CIS, gets a compliance check. The income declared on his SATR is short by around £9k according to the CIS information HMRC hold.

Client shrugs and suggests that his contractor didn't give him all his CIS statements. We tell client that, regardless, the tax is still properly due but that we will write to HMRC near the end of the 30 day period in order to put off the inevitable bill and payment due date. Client accepts this and is content that he will have, in effect, a couple of months to find the money.

(As it happens, we also got a few quid knocked off as HMRC had to accept they'd messed up in not adding up their schedule properly ... every little helps.)

We also write to client telling him to expect a tax demand of circa £700.

HMRC send revised calcs showing less than £650. Cool.

A few days later the now very irate client phones up, livid that he's had a "£700 fine" and has evidently spoken directly to HMRC who have told him that as his agent, his accountant "had access to the CIS information and so should have known how much income had been earned and tax deducted". In the few words I got in edgeways I explained that we prepare the accounts and return in good faith based on the information he gives us, but am wasting my breath as the client slams the phone down.

How bl**dy dare they (HMRC that is)!!!

[/rant]

Questions:

Have any other colleagues experienced this bad-mouthing of their work by those shining examples of professionalism and precision at HMRC?

Do we have to write to HMRC routinely now to obtain the CIS info on each of our subbie clients every May/June? When we've done this on odd occasions in the past the responses have ranged from helpful schedules to "Sorry, no. It's your client's responsibility to retain all paperwork."

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Experience

When we have written since new CIS for a schedule HMRC have refused to provide the information stating that the subbie should get the information from the contractor and if they are unable to do that then we should let HMRC have the name of the contractor.

Pre new CIS we used to be able to get HMRC to fax us their list if a 64-8 was on file. If that is indeed what HMRC have said then to your client then that is very bad.

On another note the general delay last year in issuing SA refunds and this year P35 refunds is has been very bad. I'm sure in many cases clients think we are lying when we say the delay is due to HMRC.

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Write to your MP - every time

This website http://www.writetothem.com/ makes writing to your MP super-easy, and quick.

Can I suggest that all members of AWeb do so, whenever they feel so aggrieved, in addition to posting here. It's time HMRC were exposed as the shambles they are.

HMRC would be in a real mess if they didn't have accountants to rely on, as their unpaid quality control dept.

Adrian @topaccountants

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Not just you

I have an instance of HMRC telling a client that the records we provided were "inadequate", which seems to be in revenge for winning a technicial argument over tax points that they had to (eventually) back down on despite trying their very best to drop the whole case without admitting they got such a basic issue wrong.

I have made a formal complaint, but I seem to be getting fobed off. No apology is forthcoming and the last letter claimed they agreed with me all along, despite having received letters from them stating quite the opposite.

So its not just you. Its pathetic quite frankly.

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First rule -

Totally ignore their "complaints procedure" its designed to fob you off.

Make your complaint formal.

Write FORMAL COMPLAINT in red letters across the top of the envelope (and the letter) and send it for the personal attention of the chairman.  They really, really dont like that :)

In the OPs case, tell them straight out that their slanderous comments may well have lost you at client, and you will be invoicing them for the next 10 years lost fees.

As others have said - copy your complaint to your MP. 

Finallt DO NOT allow them to fob you off, make a note to chyase them every week until you receive a satisfactory response and DO chase the.  If you want the direct number for the Chairmans PA (& her blackberry number) PM me and Ill give them to you.

 

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Bad experience

Yes.

Agreed with client - for valid reasons- to reduce payments on account.

Tax calc then done and the reduced POAs haven't covered the tax due.  We're talking about a couple of hundred quid short here.

Client receives a letter from HMRC debt management demanding immediate payment.  On phoning HMRC he's told 'your accountant has made a mistake'.  He was also told (small business struggling to support 2 employees on very low margins) 'it's people like you trying to evade your taxes that's put the country in it's current mess'.  This is to an incredibly caring, compliant individual.

Eh?  Unimpressed to say the least.  This is not indicative of every contact with HMRC, but not an example they should be proud of.

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Some perspective

Where is the slander, or "bad-mouthing"?

We have an unhappy client, who slammed the phone down on his accountant. As we all know, there are clients who, regardless of how content they may seem, will jump at any opportunity to criticise their accountant. All that we have, from this thread, is a suggestion that the client spoke to someone at HMRC and was advised that the accountant should have been able to access the information to allow the tax return to be prepared. If that advice is factually correct, there is no slander. If it is incorrect, why is it incorrect? Because perhaps the client spoke to someone on the helpline who didn't know any better? Again, I fail to see how a charge of slander could stick. It's all hearsay.

I must say, the title of this thread makes a refreshing change, but it seems once again that there are those who will jump at any opportunity to bad-mouth HMRC. I'm not saying they don't deserve it from time to time, but I think it OTT to react in such manner to what is at best 4th hand information - ie we are being told by someone we don't know what someone else told them was said to that someone else by yet another person.

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Penny

............... was advised that the accountant should have been able to access the information to allow the tax return to be prepared. If that advice is factually correct, there is no slander. If it is incorrect, why is it incorrect? Because perhaps the client spoke to someone on the helpline who didn't know any better? Again, I fail to see how a charge of slander could stick. It's all hearsay.

Posted by PennyC on Tue, 08/02/2011 - 18:10

 

It's totally incorrect - HMRC will not hand over information. Indeed they will claim it's "covered by Data protection" - which is their way of saying - we're too idle.

As for call centres - they are there as the interface between HMRC and taxpayer and have a legal duty to only give out correct information.  If they "didnt know any better" then they shouldnt be answering the phones.

The rwquirement for a succesful slander claim is that what was said did lower someones opinion of the accountant, which it clearly did, -  was said to a third party, which of course it was - and wasnt truthful, which it wasnt. 

ALL slander is, by definition, "hearsay" as it is the third party that gives evidence of what was said.  

_______________________________________________________

 

......   there are those who will jump at any opportunity to bad-mouth HMRC. I'm not saying they don't deserve it from time to time, ..........

Posted by PennyC on Tue, 08/02/2011 - 18:10

 

Many speak from experience of HMRCs constant incompetence.

Have you forgoton about the losing of peronal data, the tax code fiasco, etc ?   Tell 14 million people now receib=ving additional demands from HMTC that HMRC "dont deserve" criticism. 

The fact is that HMRC are incompetent and totally unfit for purpose.  Not just my opinion - but the opinion of a parliamentary select committe too.

 

 

 

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CD

I take all your points on board, and bow to your legal expertise in defining "slander". But the point remains that we have only the OP's words for what his client told him, and furthermore the OP has only the client's word that he actually spoke to HMRC, let alone what was said by HMRC. For all we know, the client could be making the whole thing up as an excuse to dump the accountant. Therefore, I don't think any of us should be accusing anyone - HMRC or otherwise - of slander without firmer evidence of what was said and by whom.

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HMRC attempts to undermine agents ...

... in the eyes of clients is standard practice, but it is up to each accountant to defend their position and turn HMRC actions against them for the benefit of the client in that matter.

While I would rather it was otherwise, I actually count upon HMRC Officers to undermine themselves by acting unreasonably or illegally as such makes it easier to undermine HMRC's position. When it is in their own interests, it is surprising how knowledgeable and reasonable an HMRC officer can be!

 

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Penny

Therefore, I don't think any of us should be accusing anyone - HMRC or otherwise - of slander without firmer evidence of what was said and by whom.

 

Posted by PennyC on Tue, 08/02/2011 - 20:04

 

In slander the only evidence is the word of the person it was said to.  That is usually all the evidence there is, but it is sufficient in most cases, particularly if it can be shown that the accused has a propensity for making similar statements.

Now, HMRC record ALL phone calls, but I guarantee if a court order was issued to seize the tape of this particular conversation it would mysteriously "disappear" - I know, it happened to us. Of course the court will draw its own conclusions about how "convenient" this "accidental" loss of evidence is.

That is why every single call to or from HMRC is recorded by us. Any and every face to face meeting commences with a tape recorder on the desk, and every client has firm instructions from us to refer any call by HMRC to ourselves and immediately hang up.  Should HMRC call the client back they again hang up and contact us.

We then "remind" HMRC that the client is represented, that the client has a legal entitlement to refuse to speak to them and to refer them to us, and that any further harassment of the client buy HMRC making unwanted 'phone calls will constitute an offence under the 1997 Act.

We have a varied and interesting selection of tapes, including one lovely statement made by a collector to a client who rang them from our office that - "people like you dont deserve to eat util they have paid every penny they owe".

We maintain a comprehensive file of transcripts, letters, newspaper reports, select committee findings, etc as these are always useful as similar facts evidence to demonstrate HMRCs propensity for ignoring the law when it suits them, for "conveniently losing" documents when it suits them, and for quite simply lying when it suits them. 

 

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sorry, CD

But  I have no idea what that lengthy post has to do with the case in hand. In case you missed my point, the OP has told us that a client allegedly phoned him up and claimed to have spoken to HMRC who allegedly said something to him. I've no reason to doubt the OP's words but how do we know he is accurately stating what was said? More importantly, how do we know the client ever spoke to HMRC? IF, and it's a very big IF, the initial post is an accurate record of events, I accept that HMRC deserve criticism. But since I assume that you know no more about what happened than I do, how can you unequivocally accuse HMRC of slander?

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.

I've no reason to doubt the OP's words but how do we know he is accurately stating what was said? 

Posted by PennyC on Tue, 08/02/2011 - 23:23

 

Ok - that makes perfect sense - I dont think. You say you dont doubt the OP then say you do, all in the same sentence?

 

__________________________________________________

More importantly, how do we know the client ever spoke to HMRC? IF, and it's a very big IF, the initial post is an accurate record of events, I accept that HMRC deserve criticism. But since I assume that you know no more about what happened than I do, how can you unequivocally accuse HMRC of slander?

 

Posted by PennyC on Tue, 08/02/2011 - 23:23

 

The questions you pose are simply a question of evidence. A question of whether a witness is believed. 

We see more and more cases of women claiming they were raped who are subsequently found not to have been, witnesses do lie, that is a fact. However, slander is something that is said, the only witness is almost always the person to whom it was said. Therefore the question for a court is simply does it believe the witnesses account of what was said, or, does it believe any denial made by the other party. 

In the case of HMRC this should be easy to show as all phone calls to and from HMRC are recorded. However, our experience of HMRC is that these recordings invariably "mysteriously go missing" when requested.  

Also of course, courts quite rightly take account of what is known as similar facts evidence. We have tape recordings of similar behaviour by HMRC (our own tapes which cant "go missing").  We could, therefore, demonstrate to a court that these kinds of statements are made by HMRC on numerous occasions.

I can unequivocally accuse HMRC of slander because, regardless of the OPs case, we have numerous examples absolutly proven of slander by other HMRC staff. 

For what purpose would the OP or the OPs client be lying ?  

 

 

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Recorded on client records by HMRC

My experience (1st response above) was documented by HMRC.

HMRC had advised my client that their CIS tax refund would not be made until they had received the CIS vouchers (for a 2009/10 return!!!!) and that their accountants should know better.

The comment about the CIS vouchers had been entered into HMRC records and a later call produced an apology.

The problem was convincing the client that we had not been derelict in our duty (because HMRC must be right!), so I simply said 'OK - give us the vouchers and we'll send them in'. Client then realised the impossible situation we were in.

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???

I can unequivocally accuse HMRC of slander because, regardless of the OPs case, we have numerous examples absolutly proven of slander by other HMRC staff.

So that means that HMRC must have been slanderous in this case? There could be any number of reasons for the OP's client to lie - one of them being to find an excuse to dump his accountant. But we don't know, and that is the point. You have accused HMRC as being slanderous - in one particular case - based on nothing more than words on an interim forum. As I said earlier, if the OP has accurately set out what happened you may have a point, but none of us know for sure who said what and when. It is for the OP to determine whether or not he has been slandered - I don't see how any of us bystanders can reach an unequivocal conclusion based simply on what has been presented here.

Pity help the defendant that finds you sitting as judge or chairman of the jury if you allow such prejudices to get in the way of rational thought.

Again, old behaviour rearing its head, so these are my last words here.

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Thanks all

Thanks to all who've replied (including CD and Penny's courtroom drama!)

I accept that, naturally, it's the client relaying (allegedly) what HMRC have told him, but during his little rant he was referring to the authorisation code (the agent's online "64-8" authorisation code) and how this "gave me access to the information", so I suspect he has indeed spoken to a call centre monkey at HMRC.

I've had instances of very helpful staff at HMRC so I know they're not all bad.

I will file an official complaint to the chairman, copied to my MP (and, I think, the client). Maybe I'll also call HMRC beforehand to see if the call is on record (before it "disappears"). I might not go as far as calling "slander" and of course the client hasn't formally disengaged us (yet) but the implication will be there.

Somehow I suspect it won't be the last time it happens ....

 

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