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Is it an agents job to pass HMRC messages

to clients

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as it says on the tin

is it our job as agents to pass on HMRC messages to clients?

just had a rather rude HMRC PAYE officer on the phone, he's called us as agents to advise that our client hasn't paid some PAYE payments and would we inform them for HMRC. I advised that HMRC should send out a statement of account to the client's address detailing any oustanding amounts and interest charges etc and its not our job to chase unpaid liabilties

The officer was very shirty at this point, shouting and eventually hanging up

Obviously we have informed the client of the overdue amounts, but it was the officers attitude and instance that it was out job to do that got my goat

not sure what others think

Replies (26)

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By MCV71
18th May 2022 13:29

Totally agree. We advise our clients what to pay and when. After that it's HMRC's job.

Lazy sods.

Thanks (9)
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By MCV71
18th May 2022 14:04

Note to self. If ever HMRC call me, ask them security questions then advise them they have failed and hang up.
Works both ways.....

Thanks (15)
Replying to MCV71:
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By Open all hours
18th May 2022 16:31

Have always adopted this approach hence no progress is ever made but that’s not my fault. It’s not necessary to hang up on them, they tend to agree with the absurdity of the situation and their lack of preparation.

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By gillybean04
18th May 2022 14:24

Is it an agent's job? Possibly, unless they were only authorised to file.

When a client authorises an accountant, they are authorising hmrc to correspond and communicate with that person/firm about the client's tax affairs. That doesn't just mean for them to respond to your communications, but so they can also send you communications that were not initiated by you or client.

Some may not see it as their job, but it's what agent authority allows them to do. You'd then need to consider if it was in line with your terms of engagement and duty of care to the client (and what any Prof body code of conduct may require/encourage) to determine if you have any sort of duty to do so.

There was no need for his attitude and shouting though. I could understand someone's tone giving away they're a bit miffed or frustrated, but raising your voice is never appropriate behaviour in a professional setting.

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Replying to gillybean04:
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By Hugo Fair
18th May 2022 14:35

Quite (to all of this).

The question is not really whether it is the Agent's 'job' (which is defined in the LoE and by your organisation's standards - neither of which have anything to do with HMRC);
whereas whether HMRC are *entitled* to include you in any communications with regard to your client is defined by your agent Authority (for that specific client).

Thanks (4)
Replying to gillybean04:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
18th May 2022 15:02

I can see your point of view, but I see it more as acting on behalf of the client. We correspond with HMRC so that the client does not have to correspond with them directly any more than necessary. Our role is to ensure the client only has to deal with those things that they need to know about, or which require their direct input.

There is no value to the client or ourselves from this particular communication coming via us. We cannot handle it on the clients behalf, and we likely do not know what the client has or hasn't done about paying the liability. All we can do is pass the message on exactly as given, exactly as if HMRC had contacted the client directly in the first place.

Thanks (2)
Replying to stepurhan:
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By gillybean04
18th May 2022 15:52

Personally, I think bitterness and resentment towards hmrc can sometimes blind us to what is really a duty of care to the client.

If you are engaged to advise on or manage their tax affairs, non payment of tax is a tax affair. My focus is on whether there is any potential benefit to the client, not my contempt for the messenger.

Say, for theoretical purposes obviously, your client had gotten into financial difficulty and were unaware there were viable options to help them out (debt plan with hmrc, disposal of assets, refinancing etc). We often know more about our client's finances than the client, and we're a friendly (if sometimes ugly, especially in the mornings) face they're accustomed to discussing finances with. I see cash flow issues of a trade as within our remit (again, depending on terms of engagement) and can see the value to the client of discussing it with us.

In this case, it could be both in client's and your interest (not in your interest if business closes because it is unable to pay it's debt!). Whether it is in hmrc's interest doesn't even enter the equation.

Thanks (5)
Replying to gillybean04:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
18th May 2022 16:42

All fair points, especially the one about bitterness towards HMRC. You do get a feeling of being treated as part of HMRC they can order around when these "requests" are made.

I will usually send a heads-up to a client, copying a link to Time to Pay in case they need it, if I receive one of these calls. I still ask HMRC to contact the client direct, because a letter from HMRC themselves is more likely to prompt a client to contact us if they actually do need help.

I think discussions of refinancing and restructuring of assets goes a bit beyond the normal engagement terms. There is a distinction between supporting the client and doing extra work for free.

Thanks (2)
Replying to stepurhan:
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By gillybean04
18th May 2022 19:03

It doesn't have to be for free. It could even be an opportunity to provide (and bill for) additional services or help the client see the value of those services.

Obviously it depends on the client and their circumstances. There's no point if they are habitually and wilfully a bad debtor. But sometimes there's a simple solution, it's just never came up in discussion because they never knew they could/should.

But tbh, when I said refinancing etc I was more picturing suggestions that could be made based on your knowledge and understanding of the business finances for the client to consider/pursue.

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Replying to gillybean04:
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By towat
20th May 2022 10:01

Also theoretically, a dishonest employee might be pocketing the PAYE payments (it has happened) and the client has no idea that he is in arrears, any contact from HMRC is likely to go via the rogue employee so a call from the accountant to the client might expose the scam (again, it has happened).

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By MCV71
18th May 2022 14:45

This is how the civil service will be cut. Get accountants to be unpaid debt collectors

Thanks (1)
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By tom123
18th May 2022 14:47

I can see it both ways. If I was then able to speak to the client, which then avoided them falling behind with obligations and generally getting their business affairs in a mess, then I think that is fair enough.

Obligated to: probably not, but not an unfair request from HMRC I would imagine.

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By DKB-Sheffield
18th May 2022 15:13

As others have suggested, HMRC are almost certainly entitled to contact an agent.

There is, however, a fine line between 'contacting' and 'instructing'.

A call from HMRC Debt Management asking and agent to pass on a message as they have been unable to contact a client is one thing.

However, I've had calls from Debt Management (and indeed Debt Collection Agencies), chasing client debts as their first port of call - not even having attempted to contact the client first*. To me, that is a step too far.

The worst part... when it gets to external Debt Collection, they get very annoyed when you can't get through security. "What is your company name?", "What is your VAT No?", "What is your PAYE Ref?" etc. can only be answered with "Which one/ client?". I've been accused of many things such as being obstructive, uncooperative, refusing to pay tax liabilities. Even when I've managed to explain that I'm not the client, have no idea which one they're trying to contact, or that even with a PAYE balance figure (which is almost certainly inaccurate) I'm unable to work out which client it is, I've been told to inform my client to contact them as a matter of urgency! What, all of them?!

The worst experience by far was when HMRC DM informed me that, as an agents, I was liable for the client's unpaid tax debt. Put it down to a lack of training on their part, and berate me for my stern response but, let's say I set the record straight somewhat!

* Incidentally, the client addresses and phone numbers are known by HMRC. In all cases I was agent (only), no other links to my address or phone number (correspondence, primary contact, 2FA etc).

Thanks (1)
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
18th May 2022 15:18

meh I normally say I cant tell 'em anything, but ask them them to write to the client.

I do normally however tell the client HMRC have been hassling me.

Thanks (1)
RedFive
By RedFive
18th May 2022 15:43

My iphone automatically (setting switched on) rejects unknown numbers (not in the contact book) direct to voicemail.

As HMRC are not allowed to leave a message on voicemail then in many years of doing this I've never had to deal with this sort of rubbish.

Also useful for dealing with tiresome spam / software vendors / tyrekickers etc. Genuine people leave voicemails. Those that can't or don't are not a miss.

Works for me.

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By Leywood
18th May 2022 15:49

I would pass that message on, whilst advising client that the HMRC was extremely rude and verbally agressive, or whatever. But I wouldnt be telling HMRC that I would do so. The passing of my security, a trick mentioned on here before, is the way to go with these folk.

I did once get a call from one of HMRCs debt collectors about an ex client who had tried to stiff me of my final invoice, so I assisted him to tracing a phone number and new address....all public information on the t'interweb, the poor chap just needed to learn some better google skills, so those were the skills I taught him.

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RLI
By lionofludesch
18th May 2022 20:00

Would I want to know if a client had a payment problem? Yes.

Would I feel obliged to make sure HMRC got paid? No, not really. Though, it's probably in the client's interest to stay onside.

I actually miss cooperation with HMRC so I don't see any reason for either party to start shouting and rorting. Don't lose your cool. Stay professional.

Thanks (1)
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By noodles
18th May 2022 20:29

I have had a call from HMRC on a few occasions and they have always been friendly. On these occasions, I have contacted our client and passed on the message. It is then down to them as to whether they get in touch or not. As some others have said, I feel that it is part of the service that I am getting paid for.
I did have a rude HMRC individual on one occasion, but different circumstances. I wrote to HMRC with my complaint and I had a call from a senior officer. They had listened to the phone call and apologised to me. Did not expect that !

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By bernard michael
19th May 2022 09:43

If you weren't authorised for PAYE by HMRC for this client you can't discuss it with them
Were you??

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By meadowsaw227
19th May 2022 13:49

I would definitely want to know if a client wasn't paying his/her tax liabilities on time as I may not have known anything was wrong.
Once told I would definitely inform the client of the call.

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By Winnie Wiggleroom
20th May 2022 09:04

I have lost count of the times that HMRC have contacted a client directly about a matter instead of me as the registered agent, so I would have told them that I have already made my client aware of his liabilities and that they should contact them directly if they wished to be paid. That is if I answered the phone in the first place which is doubtful if I did not know the number.

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Replying to Winnie Wiggleroom:
RLI
By lionofludesch
20th May 2022 09:14

Winnie Wiggleroom wrote:

I have lost count of the times that HMRC have contacted a client directly about a matter instead of me as the registered agent, so I would have told them that I have already made my client aware of his liabilities and that they should contact them directly if they wished to be paid. That is if I answered the phone in the first place which is doubtful if I did not know the number.

Are you complaining that they don't contact you in the first instance or that they do?

Thanks (3)
Replying to lionofludesch:
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By Winnie Wiggleroom
20th May 2022 13:46

lionofludesch wrote:

Winnie Wiggleroom wrote:

Are you complaining that they don't contact you in the first instance or that they do?

My point was that if HMRC reply directly to a client instead of me (where I have sent the letter as happened to me last week), its a bit rich for them to contact me directly to pass on a message for them, so in this instance I would be telling them that they need to decide whether they are going to respect my clients written authority on all occasions rather than just when it pleases them

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By birdman
20th May 2022 09:56

I've had an alarming number of clients pay tax using the wrong references lately (despite my best efforts, and usually despite them paying correctly for many years prior) - CT to SA reference, PAYE to CT etc etc, so yes, I would take note, look at all accounts online, then let client know if reallocation was needed, or advise if they've missed payments, and ask if they are having cashflow problems, which may lead to other work for them. No need for HMRC to be rude, though.

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By keith.sidgwick
20th May 2022 10:53

Is it a possible unintentional benefit in HMRC contacting that you are now aware that your client might be financial difficulty and that your fees might be at risk.

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By eppingaccountant
21st May 2022 23:41

I received such a phonecall about three years ago and said to the HMRC caller "Why should I do this? If I invoice my client for professional services and they haven't yet paid me, would I call HMRC and ask you to chase this up for me?" The call then ended.

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