Target your complaint
Most of you reading this will, at some point, have complained to HMRC about the service you are getting (or not!). In the first in a new series we explain how you can complain effectively, and what to expect from HMRC when you do
In recent times we have seen a burst of compliance activity from HMRC, including Business Record Checks (BRC), the VAT disclosure opportunity, the Tax Catch Up Plan (TCUP) and offshore issues. While these place greater demand on accountants, it is clear that HMRC has yet to get its own house in order. We are still hearing of far too many occasions of unreasonable delay, such as a recent case where HMRC wrote to an accountancy practice on 15 December 2011 to advise that a repayment had been authorised; the letter reached the recipient on 8 February 2012, almost two months later. The client is still waiting for their refund. There are also many instances where the work undertaken by HMRC is totally disproportionate to the tax at stake; being of great cost, not only to the Exchequer but also increasing the burden on professional advisors and their clients to a totally unacceptable level.
HMRC’s BRC initiative is going back to the drawing board after feedback from professional and business bodies. While this can be seen as a positive move, there is still much to be done to relieve the pressure on professional advisors.
So what can you do if something goes wrong?
Time is of the essence
Firstly, it is crucial that you inform HMRC at the earliest possible opportunity of any dissatisfaction on your part. You can do this by contacting the person that you have been dealing with at HMRC, either by writing to them at the address on any written correspondence, or by contacting them by phone to discuss your complaint there and then. Alternatively, make an appointment to meet and discuss the complaint in person. If you do not have a specific point of contact, or do not feel comfortable raising your concerns with the person you have been dealing with direct, you should contact the appropriate HMRC helpline (e.g. Self-Assessment, National Insurance, VAT, Employer helplines) and explain that you wish to lodge a formal complaint. Ask to be put in touch with a dedicated Complaint Handler. Staff on the helplines will take a note of the main issues and refer this to the Complaints Team, after which a dedicated Complaints Handler will be assigned to the case and will contact you directly. Helpline telephone numbers and further guidance can be found on the HMRC website, by clicking on the quick link ‘complaints and appeals’, although the main addresses and numbers to note are listed at the end of this article.
Even with HMRC’s backlog of post, it is advisable to put any complaint in writing. This ensures that there is a full audit trail and that the complaint is put more succinctly. It also reduces the opportunity for emotions to overspill, which can be somewhat damaging to the outcome. All letters of complaint should include your full contact details and any tax reference numbers, and should be marked prominently ‘Formal Complaint’ or ‘Complaint Case’, as HMRC aim to identify and prioritise such letters when opening the post (although this is not to say some don’t slip through the net). Don’t send letters by recorded delivery, as the volume of post that HMRC receives on a daily basis means they are unable to sign for individual items.
The content of any complaints letter should be as comprehensive as possible and should cover what has gone wrong, including a list of events as they have happened, the names of the people you have spoken with at HMRC and the advice that was given and/or action(s) taken. You should express what effect HMRC’s actions have had on you and/or your client and include details of what you hope the outcome will be, whether this be a letter of apology, a compensation payment and/or some other outcome.
HMRC’s redress policy allows the reimbursement of ‘reasonable’ costs incurred as a direct consequence of their mistakes and/or unreasonable delays, but you must be able to demonstrate that such costs (e.g. postage, phone calls, and professional fees) were actually incurred by retaining the relevant receipts for inspection by HMRC, if requested.
Furthermore, HMRC may make a small payment to acknowledge or apologise for the worry and distress caused by their actions, if they consider this appropriate.
The Caseworker or dedicated Complaint Handler should acknowledge receipt of your complaint and provide a date by when they expect to provide you with a full response. The aim is to respond to all complaints within 15 working days, but this will not always be possible. However, HMRC should provide you with a clear timeline and notify you of any amendment to this. If they do not adhere to the timeline contact HMRC as soon as possible to agree on a revised timeline or consider escalating your complaint.
HMRC will look into each complaint thoroughly by reviewing their records and talking to the officers involved; if necessary they may contact you for more information. HMRC will try to resolve your complaint and following their review of the matters raised will send you a letter detailing their findings. This response is often sufficient to resolve the complaint, but if not, the letter will also include details of who you should contact if you are still unhappy.
There are a number of escalation routes that are open to you if you are still unhappy. These, along with what to do if you disagree with HMRC’s decisions in enquiry cases will be discussed in future articles.
Thanks to Taxwise Services for this article
HMRC contact details
• SA Helpline: 0845 900 0444
• HM Revenue & Customs, Self Assessment, PO Box 4000, Cardiff, CF14 8HR
• VAT, Excise & Customs Helpline: 0845 010 9000
• HM Revenue & Customs, VAT Written Enquiries Team, Alexander House, Victoria Avenue, Southend, Essex, SS99 1BD
• Employer Helpline: 0845 7143 143
• Customer Operations Employer Office, BP4009, Chillingham House, Benton Park View, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE98 1ZZ
This article is taken from “Accounting Practice” the ICPA quarterly magazine. Dedicated to supporting and promoting the needs of the general practitioner. You can find us at www.icpa.org.uk or email [email protected] or by ‘phone on 0800-074-2896