Accountants forced to send HMRC letters to clients

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Accountants, tax advisers and all financial institutions in the UK will be required to write to clients before 30 April 2017, enclosing a letter from HMRC which warns about the dangers of not declaring offshore income and gains.

The requirement is outlined in F(no. 2)A 2015, s 50: International agreements to improve compliance: client notification, the application of which, I believe, will strain client-adviser relationships.

The draft regulations and guidance notes that set-out exactly what the adviser will have to send to clients and when, are now out for consultation. However, the consultation period has been set at just 12 days - responses are required by 12 February 2016!

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  • Who must be contacted?
  • What must be sent?
  • When and how?
  • Penalties

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Rebecca Cave
Tax Writer
Taxwriter Ltd
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05th Feb 2016 15:13

A bloody joke

If forced to do this, I will write to all clients in advance, advising them that I am being forced to write to them in terms dictated by HMRC. In other words, I will distance myself from the letter completely (which will probably mean when it does get sent, clients will not read it).

Neither HMT nor HMRC have any right to instruct independent advisers to do their job for them. If they want a message sent, they can bloody well send it themselves.

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08th Feb 2016 11:51

Like it

SteLacca wrote:

If forced to do this, I will write to all clients in advance, advising them that I am being forced to write to them in terms dictated by HMRC. In other words, I will distance myself from the letter completely (which will probably mean when it does get sent, clients will not read it).

Neither HMT nor HMRC have any right to instruct independent advisers to do their job for them. If they want a message sent, they can bloody well send it themselves.

Good idea.

On the other hand, why are we surprised ?

We already provide slave labour to the Goverment and have done for many a year.

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05th Feb 2016 15:39

Thin end of the wedge

The CIOT technical team should take a stand, and instruct its members not to comply with this ''requirement''.  It is undemocratic and unethical and will be the thin end of the wedge.  We are not some form of domestic Gestapo. 

To comply will necessarily mean reviewing many if not all clients' files incurring time and costs. For the sake of £300, the moral and ethical course of action is to ignore it en-masse.  They can't penalise everybody and it will at least tie up their resources in having to deal with multiple if not near universal non compliance. 

 

 

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By JSJ54
05th Feb 2016 15:50

Utter madness

And I thought the jokers in Parliament were trying to reduce red tape.

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05th Feb 2016 16:01

Copy of my response below -please feel free to copy some or all

I refer to F(no.2) A 2015 which seeks to impose a requirement on accountants and others to write to clients enclosing a letter from HMRC which warns about the dangers of not declaring offshore income and gains.

 

I have the following concerns about the consultation period:

 

1                     The consultation period is too short (12 days only)

2                     This is particularly unfortunate given the timing – many accountants take leave in the first two weeks in February after the 31 january deadlines.

3                     The consultation period apparently closes before we are permitted to see the draft HMRC letter or the paragraphs that HMRC require to be enclosed in the cover letter.

4                     Consultation details are only on CIOT website and have not been widely published.

5                     The cost of complying with the legislation and proving compliance , even for a micro –practice such as my own , exceeds the proposed penalty for non- compliance. This suggests to me that the costs of compliance have not been properly considered.

6                     The definition of providing offshore advice or services appears to be very widely drawn and is likely to include secondary clients and contacts –for example if I act for a company and they need me to talk to an overseas shareholder or employee at their expense. While I can identify such individuals because my practice is very small , it is quite onerous to do so.

7                     The guidance suggests that paper is the preferred option whereas email would be cheaper for us.

8                     In addition, the requirement for paper comes at a time when both ourselves and our clients are trying to move to greener working methods.

9                     I personally don’t have a problem forwarding a letter from HMRC saying that tax evasion is a bad idea but I do have a problem putting someone else’s paragraphs in a letter that purports to be my own.

 

I do understand why the government wishes to impose such a requirement and will obviously comply with any statutory requirement , even one which is likely to irritate and offend my law abiding and risk averse clientele .  However, it seems unfortunate that this requirement is being imposed in a way that seems likely to offend and irritate those people most sympathetic to suppressing tax evasion.

 

On a more constructive note, may I suggest that :

 

1                     The consultation period is extended .

2                     The compliance period changed so that if fits the personal tax work cycle better and can be sent with other annual client mailings. 1 February 2017 to 30 April 2018 would be a better choice. This minimises the cost and disruption for us.

3                     Email is specified as an acceptable delivery method.

4                     HMRC does not seek to put paragraphs into our covering letters.

5                     If there is to be a standard covering letter or email, then any guidance on its content should come from our professional bodies (I understand that for unregulated advisers that would be HMRC) . 

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05th Feb 2016 16:12

But how can it be a legitimate statutory requirement...

To make us use our own letterheads and sign letters, that include words - with serious implications - that we neither agreed to nor would necessarily want to use ourselves.  To submit to this nonsense would amount to a clear breach of professional independence.

If HMRC wants to pass a message then it may, with safeguards, be appropriate for it to require us to send a copy of their letter, with HMRC having first agreed to bear the costs of so doing and in a timescale that is reasonable - not a three week period of its choosing. 

What would be next - a mandatory paragraph in each piece of tax advice, or a statutory covering letter on our letterhead and presented as our words of advice to be sent with each tax return.  I shall not comply, and the duty of the professional bodies is to support its members in non compliance. 

 

 

 

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05th Feb 2016 17:09

£300 Bargain

Frankly, £300 is cheaper than the faffing around required, even for a small firm, for this latest piece of statist 'Something-Must-Be-Done-ery'.

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05th Feb 2016 16:29

Bargain indeed

£300 seems a very good price to pay to email all my clients to say HMRC are trying to force me to impose their dictats on you but I am refusing. I can then contact the local press as the adviser who stood up to HMRC and paid the price. Cheap advertising !

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05th Feb 2016 17:07

Well this is one way to do it:

Dear Client Name

I enclose some bollcoks HMRC say I have to send you.

Its probably not relevant to you, but I am told I have to send it never the less on the threat of a £300 fine. 

The official content of the letter is as follows, I did not write this bit, but am obliged to include it:

HMRC nonsense starts:

 

 

HMRC nonsense ends

If you have got this far, well done, you dont however get a prize.

If there is actually anything in this crap that is relevant to you, do let me know. 

Yours sincerely,

Your Accountant

 

 

 

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06th Feb 2016 09:16

Are they for real?
Not much more to add to the above really. Ps. Practice for sale now. Can't take it anymore. Why must I do the job of HMRC? They talk and produce so much nonsense. What a shame we have a government that feels it is perfectly fine go to this. The direction of tax in this country is baffling. They can talk nonsense and parade it as if it good in the face of all the experience advising otherwise. I hate these conservative muppets and the others are probably worse. Time we had a new way. People selected based on knowledge, track record and ability. As is done in the real world

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07th Feb 2016 17:00

I will ignore this drivel

If HMRC want to write to someone let them write.  If they want me to write, the standard fee is £30 plus VAT per letter.  End of story.

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08th Feb 2016 01:35

My fee per letter

will be at a rate commensurate with the potential damage to my business of being seen as a muppet and payable in advance of the work to be undertaken. Of course if they do not pay my invoice then I will not be undertaking the work.

I am self employed and do not have a master and I do not use other peoples words in letters that I compile in a professional manner. Looks like  case of infringing my human rights  and blackmail with extortion if I do not  comply.

Of course given the nature of my business - tax investigation -  please feel free to contact me for a chat if you have clients that want to approach HMRC with  a voluntary disclosure of foreign income or profits once you send your letters.

24/7 contact on 07751720507 or via my website www.wamstaxltd.com

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08th Feb 2016 06:39

Why this must fail

In my view if the entire UK accountancy sector fails to resist this then it shows what a spineless bunch of muppets ICAEW and the rest truly are.

If this works and we all do these stupid letters for free, what will be the next free letter that comes down the tracks for us to write?  After all, writing all those tedious statements and debt chasing letters must cost HMRC a pretty penny. Writing to folks to tell them when the country wants them to submit corporation tax or self-assessment returns must cost a few hundred million per year.

Why bother with this trouble and expense when you know of a bunch of spineless muppets you can brow-beat into doing it for you as unpaid subbies?

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By Mallock
08th Feb 2016 09:01

Thin end of the wedge indeed

And how long before some Civil Servant muppet comes up with a plan to make it the accountant's fault and responsibility if someone has income they don't declare?

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08th Feb 2016 09:53

At the risk of being provocative
Is it not the accountants fault if offshore evaded income has not been fully returned and no question as to whether any entry was required in the blank return boxes (including foreign income and any other income) when they were completed annually.
Ok back to work and ducking the flying pens from fellow contributors.
At least we could maybe smile and laugh if the underlying potential problem wasnt so serious and it was 1st April 2016. HMRC must think "our heids button up the back" . Do not let apathy and weakness let them drive this wedge home.

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By Mallock
08th Feb 2016 11:13

Dangerous direction

billgilcom wrote:
Is it not the accountants fault if offshore evaded income has not been fully returned and no question as to whether any entry was required in the blank return boxes (including foreign income and any other income) when they were completed annually.

Oh what a dangerous thing to say! How many Court Solicitors would be left if they all got the same sentence as their guilty clients?

Clients receive a Tax Return to review and approve together with full summarised details of what the form includes. If they forget or decide not to tell me about something, that is entirely their fault and that is the way it must remain.

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08th Feb 2016 10:27

@billgilcom

I assume that you have perfect clients who don't lie to you. I once dealt with an enquiry where HMRC were looking for a settlement of £750,000. The client had been lying through his teeth to us for years.

I still got him off with half that, and then he decided it wasn't enough and off he went, ungrateful lying toe rag.

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By Old Greying Accountant
08th Feb 2016 11:18

It is not ...

... the £300 fine, but more likely the excuse to put you on the naughty step and not grant you full agent access when the self-serve changes come in - could be just a ruse to grade all small firms as second class firms so they can continue cosying up the the big firms.

You couldn't make this bollocks up, Terry Pratchett must be turning in his grave The closest most of my clients come to offshore funds is winning on the cakewalk machine on Brighton pier!

 

 

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By birdman
08th Feb 2016 11:57

Letter to all clients

Old Greying Accountant wrote:

... the £300 fine, but more likely the excuse to put you on the naughty step and not grant you full agent access when the self-serve changes come in - could be just a ruse to grade all small firms as second class firms so they can continue cosying up the the big firms.

If it wasn't for the possibility above, I'd volunteer to pay the fine in advance on the basis it's cheaper than the stamps and stationery costs alone!

In any case, will a "form" letter really have any impact? And what about onshore evasion, possibly far more likely amongst our client base (not that any of mine do.....).

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08th Feb 2016 11:23

Whose agent are we?

I thought that we represented our clients as agents dealing with HMRC. Not the other way round. Should we issue HMRC with letters of engagement including all of our terms and conditions and the basis of our fees?

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08th Feb 2016 11:43

Bad enough

It's bad enough that employers are now debt collectors on HMRC's behalf (DEA anyone?), but this is really a non-starter for me.

If you want to write to taxpayers, HMRC, then go ahead and do it.  I am not incurring the time and costs of doing your job for you on an unpaid basis.  If you wish me to review my clients and send out letters as appropriate, I'll do the job for you at a cut price of £100 plus VAT per client reviewed.  payable in advance- as I have little faith in you paying the fee even if you said you would, which you won't.

I will make it clear in any correspondence that I have been coerced into acting against my will by legislation imposing this farce on me.

Actually, no, I won't.  I will just ignore this completely as the waste of space it is, dreamed up by some cosy civil servant who has no concept of what it's like out in the real world, and who now thinks they can get us to do their job for them by force of legislation.

I've no idea who's taken over the Treasury but it doesn't seem that the things coming out of it these days have much in common with the usual Tory values- it's more like Corbyn's minions are running it.

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08th Feb 2016 12:05

Really?
How much will HMRC be paying us to do this?

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08th Feb 2016 12:07

HMRC letter

Hang on, its not April 1st yet, hasn't this been published too early?!?

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08th Feb 2016 12:07

I had assumed that this was some sort of joke...

When  I heard this I thought it could not actually be serious. But its not April 1st.

How do they know you have actually written or not written. We get most of the post for the street anyway as clearly the postie cant read. 

Happy days eh.. 

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08th Feb 2016 12:09

judicial review
Please

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08th Feb 2016 12:13

Granny telling us how to suck eggs!

As part of what we do we advise clients regarding tax law to ensure that they are compliant with it. 

HMRC do not advise clients and don't advertise a lot of what they do, eg. HMRC campaigns, leaving us to have written to client's advising them of all HMRC campaigns, starting with the Offshore Disclosure Facility in 2007.

HMRC are going to be introducing a strict criminal liability offence for anyone with undisclosed offshore income or gains.

Whilst I hope this does not apply to any of my client's I will certainly be communicating this new law to all our client's to ensure they are fully aware of it and the consequences of non-compliance. No-one will later be able to come back and say we never told them.

I don't need HMRC to tell me what to say to clients that is surely up to me.

This smacks of Granny telling us how to suck eggs.

 

 

 

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08th Feb 2016 12:16

Letters to all clients.

I have a very small practice, but it will still be cheaper to pay the fine than do HMRC's job for them. Don't expect any help from ICAEW - they are servants of the big firms, who will comply with HMRC's wishes and simply pass the costs onto their clients.

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08th Feb 2016 12:23

Welcome ...

... to the United Kingdom of Dystopia.

Things (as they say) can only get worse.

Eh oop! The things up with which we have to put.

I admire the optimism that some contributors have in believing they can change anything. Give me some examples!  They must be young and not tinged by the dead hand of cynicism.

Ron, the unchartered accountant

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08th Feb 2016 12:30

Engagement Letter

Do we have to get HMRC to sign an engagement letter first?

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11th Feb 2016 19:08

Money laundering

Not only must you get HMRC to agree to a letter of engagement you must report them for money laundering when they are tardy at processing refunds.

Oh what fun, thank heaven I'm retiring and have resigned from ICAEW

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08th Feb 2016 12:32

How many clients affected though?

Looking at the guidance as to clients that need to be contacted, I can count the ones that fall into this on the fingers of one foot!

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08th Feb 2016 12:36

How will HMRC know?

Its not clear how HMRC will know if you don't send letters out. It says how the penalty will be applied and how to appeal but I can't see were it says how HMRC will know. Will HMRC write to everyone who should have received a letter to check or wait until they find someone who doesn't declare their offshore income and then ask if they received a letter? The client will almost certainly deny this. This then puts more onus on the accountant to prove they've sent a letter or email and if they hadn't would the client have an excuse for not declaring offshore income?

The whole thing is bonkers and badly thought out. The accountant doing HMRC job for them again and incurring costs. My worry is if we don't send the letters out and pay the fine could HMRC report us to out accountancy bodies?

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08th Feb 2016 12:39

Stunned!

At a CPD session once years ago, during the wondrous "Any Questions?" bit after the death by Powerpoint presentation by two HMRC officers, I asked:....

"If HMRC extract tax from such as Madam Whiplash, could it not be construed that Government - and HMRC- were living off immoral earnings?".

All the attenders fell about and the HMRC wonks had the grace to sort of, chuckle.

I was then chair of my county chapter; and even then I didn't care.

Of course, all of our institutes will be incandescent with angst and will be robustly demanding Government pick up the tab for our practice costs as acting for agents of HMRC...

Thought not.

 

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08th Feb 2016 12:39

Slavery?

I am not human rights lawyer however the proposals appear to contravene section 1 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015;

"1 Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour

 

(1)A person commits an offence if—

(a)the person holds another person in slavery or servitude and the circumstances are such that the person knows or ought to know that the other person is held in slavery or servitude, or

(b)the person requires another person to perform forced or compulsory labour and the circumstances are such that the person knows or ought to know that the other person is being required to perform forced or compulsory labour."

Brave new world?

 

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09th Feb 2016 10:37

Call me cynical, if you like, but ......

robert4004 wrote:

I am not human rights lawyer however the proposals appear to contravene section 1 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015;

"1 Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour

 

(1)A person commits an offence if—

 

(a)the person holds another person in slavery or servitude and the circumstances are such that the person knows or ought to know that the other person is held in slavery or servitude, or

 

(b)the person requires another person to perform forced or compulsory labour and the circumstances are such that the person knows or ought to know that the other person is being required to perform forced or compulsory labour."

Brave new world?

Cleverly worded.   It doesn't apply to the Government as it is not "a person".

Bit like PAYE on Old Age Pensions.  Too difficult for the Government to deal with ......

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08th Feb 2016 12:48

Police State

This an outrageous abuse of powers by the government if it is allowed into law.  If we as practitioners are required to start issuing these letters how will we be compensated?  We suffer tremendous fee pressure from all clients and when setting prices we review the amount of work that will be needed to look after a client and their circumstances.  Do HMRC really believe that our clients will accept that part of their fee relates to the cost of us sending them threatening letters from HMRC?  Or will HMRC be ready to pay fees for our time spent preparing and sending these letters?  Will they also consider compensation where the letter offends clients to the extent that they decide they no longer want to use an Agent seen to be part of the HMRC cash generating machine?

In addition what other letters will we be required to issue in the future?  HMRC seem to have some misguided idea that we as authorised agents act on their behalf.  We do not.  We act on behalf of our clients who pay for our services because the tax law in this country has become so complicated that an average person is no longer able to understand it without being able to devote a significant amount of time to research.  Even then many people are not able to put themselves in a position where they feel confident they have correctly interpreted the law over even the simplest of investments such as renting a small property.  

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08th Feb 2016 12:52

Agents and HMRC working together

Good afternoon all,

First of all my first impression of this was to say no to the big stick approach, however lets take a step back and put our rose tinted glasses on. . .  There has surely got to be a compromise in all of this. . . .

I am all for bringing Client, Agents and HMRC together and this really needs to be the rhetoric sung by all parties. I do not feel that this is the reality that we are being faced with.

Attempting to force Agents to do any more at their own cost is, in my mind a demonstration of the lack of regard held for Agents by HMRC and does not promote good relations.

I normally write to clients at least once every year, around the end of March with a new mileage diary / tax rates & allowances and a questionnaire for the forthcoming year

Now.. . . .  if HMRC were asking me to include additional information in my questionnaire, or include a flyer that they would like including. . .  I have absolutely no problem with that. . . HMRC simply need to provide the flyers or information and it can be done. . .

What I have a problem with is setting a precedent of being a post master for HMRC at my own cost. . . . I have no intention of complying if this approach runs its course. I suspect Agents should consider forming their own Union to be heard as one voice if this is the path that is going to be placed before us.

One final thought. . . with the digital tax account only round the corner, would it not be easier for HMRC to contact clients and agents digitally using the same digital accounts?

 

 

 

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08th Feb 2016 13:01

They already exist!

nickselectaccounting wrote:

 I have no intention of complying if this approach runs its course. I suspect Agents should consider forming their own Union to be heard as one voice if this is the path that is going to be placed before us.

The err, unions already exist; they are called professional bodies and the major chartered bodies work through CCAB.

Which just goes to show how contemptuous they are of the members who fund their ivory palaces and frequent jollies...

 

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08th Feb 2016 12:52

We have to Police the industry

Yet again we are asked to enforce the profession, mind you on this ocassion its reasonable to me, however is this the start of something..mmmmmmm

 

Extract above

enclosing a letter from HMRC which warns about the dangers of not declaring offshore income and gains.

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08th Feb 2016 13:02

Why don't ..... ?

Why don't HMRC write to all these people ?

Don't they have their addresses ?

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08th Feb 2016 13:12

Don't shoot the messenger, on the other hand......

anthonystorey wrote:

I've sent an email to [email protected] (referred to in the article) asking him to read the comments on AccountingWeb and take notice of what's been said. Beware though, they might increase the penalty for not complying judged by the number of contributors saying that the £300 is worth paying.

Oh well done, nothing quite like dropping those people in it ! And of course also kindly suggesting that a higher penalty might be a good idea.

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09th Feb 2016 08:27

no chance of me
Filling Lin Homers seat then in April now? Dont suppose there ever was.....

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08th Feb 2016 23:27

Beware of the Quisling
Anthony, this is a discussion concerning a matter of great moment to our professional independence and potentially to our democractatic freedom. Why on earth do you see fit to inform HMRC of our discussion. If they were interested in our views, they would have sought them in advance through the appropriate channel. As other contributions have pointed out, your email to HMRC not only '"drops us in it'" but also may stifle free discussion. As you point out, your email to HMRC may increase the financial cost, to us ethical accountants who are prepared to stand up to this tyranny. At the very least, you should have forewarned mwmbers and imvites them to remove tjeor contributions. I think you owe it to your fellow contributors to share the entirety of your email by posting it on the forum.

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09th Feb 2016 08:22

It seems extremely naive, given the discussion in point,

(democratic freedom) to suggest, that our learned colleague, Anthony, isn't entitled to contact or speak with whomever he chooses. Unless an individual, or professional body, takes up the mantle, how do you suggest this ridiculous notion being quashed?

There's also an assumption that HMRC do not visit this  site, from time to time. Really?

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By Ammie
08th Feb 2016 13:15

UNPAID CIVIL SERVANTS

Each year a few more duties performed by HMRC are passed onto the public under statutory obligation, quite often to the accountants. The day will come when we will be perfoming all their duties except for collecting payment.

Who would have thought that when PAYE and payroll management was introduced it would be a long slippery slope to an endless stream of enforced unpaid government work, which we have to pay to do!!.

Nice work if you can get it!!

HMRC need to be very careful as they are "digging" a very large hole for themselves which they may fall into. Hopefully!!

This will serve to alienate many.

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08th Feb 2016 14:08

Their sheer arrogance is becoming delusional

and with it their credibility is steadily disappearing. The number of fighting-talk fishing exercise letters they've sent over the years at which we've laughed does not seem to dissuade them. If they spoke to someone down the pub like they do in half of their communications, HMRC would wake up looking at the ceiling...

Maybe it's time we all stood up and told them words to the effect of no. Plus all appeal/argue the fines and generally gum the system up even worse than it is at present.

 

 

 

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08th Feb 2016 14:44

.

The odd thing of course, is when they DO get in their lap a detailed list of people with offshore money.  Lets say for complete random example, 6800 people with money in HSBC swiss accounts, they bend over backwards not to collect it. 

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08th Feb 2016 14:48

Giorgio Osbornini......
....... developing a Mussolini complex ( not to mention a Salazar and Franco one coupled with a double helping of Greek Colonels mentality pre 1985)

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By Expat24
08th Feb 2016 15:56

Having done a few Voluntary Disclosures

 

for foreign nationals in the last year, I can confirm that HMRC pass it internally from pillar to post and earliest response I have had on any of them is 6 months & 1 week and that was to ask if we had a 64-8 in place (which we already had when we sent in the VD!).  Nothing from HMRC of any substance on the subject of the income disclosed on any of the VDs for 8 months +.

Would love to know how HMRC are going to have the manpower to deal with the influx after this letter, let alone harassing accountants to ensure the letter was sent in the first place! 

I have written to my MP as well as the individual at HMRC, cited in this article.

 

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