HMRC blasted in special relief case

Share this content

HMRC has been criticised for its callous and unlawful treatment of a dyslexic painter and decorator who has the mental age of a 12 year old.

The Revenue said that John Clark, from Dunfermline, Scotland, who has had depression, owed tax of £17,779. However, this was a total of three estimated 'determinations' raised by HMRC for the years 2002/03 to 2005/06, without reference to his actual business records or accounts. The firm of accountants who acted for Clark from April 2013, calculated there was no actual tax due as his income was less than his personal allowance for those years.

Clark had worked part time as painter and decorator for about one year and then stopped when he split from his wife in 2003 after which he was the sole carer for his school-age daughter. His wife died in 2013.

His wife had helped him with his tax affairs until about March 2003.

In early 2006 a fire at Clark's house caused extensive damage. He could not return to live there for almost a year. His daughter left his house in 2009.

Clark said that he had no recollection of receiving tax returns or demands for payment nor would he have appreciated the significance of such documents. Clark is dyslexic. He had no representation at the tribunal and had all the documents read to him.

With his daughter’s help Clark wrote to HMRC in June 2011. There was no reply. The letter was returned, marked “sent to wrong department.” 

Clark met HMRC three times in its Dunfermline office but without success, the tribunal heard. He was unable to communicate satisfactorily with their staff as they had not appreciated his learning difficulties.

The case [John Clark v HMRC, TC04509] hinged on whether HMRC should have granted Special Relief in respect of the estimated tax, and whether HMRC's pursuit of the tax was "unconscionable" considering the taxpayer's particular circumstances.

The tribunal judge, Kenneth Mure, ruled that HMRC's pursuit of the tax debt was "unconscionable" and cited a previous tribunal - William Maxwell v HMRC [2013] UKFTT 459 - as a factor in his decision.

He said that HMRC didn't bear in mind Clark's severe learning difficulties, his reliance on his family and the likelihood that many tax documents may have been destroyed by his house fire.

HMRC's argument was "too narrow, inadequate, and lacking in consideration of the appellant’s peculiar vulnerability," Mure said. HMRC ignored Clark's "inability to engage fully and satisfactorily with the tax authorities."

About Nick Huber

Nick Huber profile image

I’m a specialist business journalist and have a particular interest in tax and technology. 


Please login or register to join the discussion.

05th Sep 2015 13:22

was it not obvious

that the man had learning problems?


Oh, hold on, I forgot, it is HMRC we are talking about!

Thanks (4)
05th Sep 2015 16:40

It's not that clear cut
My son is classed as "severely dyslexic", but works as a mechanic in Australia. He is not only a manager, but deals with his own tax affairs, making sure his accountant gets all he needs.

I appreciate the man had difficulties, but to make it sound like dyslexics are slow, thick, or whatever just because they are dyslexic is not right, and does a disservice to our professional accounting colleagues who are dyslexic. (and other folks like my son)

Thanks (8)
07th Sep 2015 10:51

Not just dyslexia

I think the dyslexia was a minor part of this guy's difficulties (Mental age of 12) I used to work with a dyslexic - clever guy.





Thanks (1)
By chatman
07th Sep 2015 11:01

I don't think the article misrepresented dyslexia

taylorag wrote:
to make it sound like dyslexics are slow, thick, or whatever just because they are dyslexic

The article didn't do that. It made clear that weak reading skills were just one of his problems.

Thanks (2)
05th Sep 2015 19:25

The judge thought otherwise

the man did not 'have difficulties' he was unable to engage fully... etc etc.

No one is unsympathetic to people with dyslexia...except perhaps HMRC. 

Thanks (1)
07th Sep 2015 10:31

This is the trouble

You get behind with your filing, and your open season for HMRC, there very cruel on the small guy, mind you they are more interested in the big fish theses days.

Lay off the tiddlers like John Clark.

Thanks (0)
07th Sep 2015 10:42

This case

Was also cited here about 2 months ago:

Thanks (1)
07th Sep 2015 11:07

More than dyslexia

I have personal associations with people with learning difficulties.

No two cases are the same- dyslexia is only one area of a far-reaching situation which "normal-minded" people cannot relate to.

In this case no physical symptoms and probably a wish to disguise the inherent problems- I know it well.

As I J Lessels says- clever guy. I can better that- one person who cannot read or write can go to the supermarket without a list (obviously) but still remember everything to buy for a week for a family of 6 including 4 youngsters. Me? I've got a very high IQ (blush) but "if it ain't on the list it don't exist"

O for the good old days when there was a local face to face opportunity for HMRC (and others) to understand that not all people are the same. 



Thanks (1)
07th Sep 2015 11:31

Vulnerable taxpayers

What has happened to common sense?

HMRC should be making special allowance for those suffering from disabilities such as dementia, depression etc.who are unable to cope.  There seems to be no allowance for such circumstances and HMRC whilst sticking to the letter of the law  relies on compassionate professionals to solve such problems on a pro bono basis.  

Thanks (0)
07th Sep 2015 11:48

So what's so unusual?

I can think of far more appropriate words than callous or unconscionable. These people have absolutely no understanding of the pain that tax causes the small trader. They give the impression that all thy are interested in is abusing the powers available to them. Those who attempt to make it on their own cannot expect fair or impartial treatment from the Revenue, let alone support or assistance.

Thanks (0)
07th Sep 2015 12:17


planet are they on?

Thanks (0)
07th Sep 2015 12:23

What Planet?

Their own of course! Betcha knew that already and your question rhetorical!

Thanks (1)
07th Sep 2015 14:01

HMRC are not humane

I totally understand Mr Clark's problem because it is a daily battle to me to make HMRC understand what I am talking about.

It appears to me that HMRC hasn't got a clue what the world really like. They dont have business or accountancy knowledge at all.

They appear to be ignorant or just playing ignorant.

HMRC 30 years ago was not the same as now. They used to be knowledgeable with regards to taxation and accounts and business matters. Current HMRC bread are totally.......

I will stop here.

Thanks (2)
07th Sep 2015 14:40

He had mental age of 12 - but sole carer for his daughter

As is usual in these cases - lots of conflicting parts -

Dyslexia(my husband and daughter are dyslexic) does not mean he is unintelligent - if he really had a mental age of 12 - surely he would not have been deemed fit to look after a child.

I have lots of clients who are dyslexic - but they all keep records and deal with their legal obligations.

It is his mental state which seems to be the problem here. We had a client who developed dementia - HMRC were no where near the worse to help us - pension companies were a nightmare.


Thanks (2)
07th Sep 2015 16:14

mental age of 12

I was not talking about Clark in particular. I was talking about similar cases with HMRC.

Are there anyone there who are happy with HMRC?

thank you Sally 1964.

Thanks (0)
08th Sep 2015 12:12

Happy with HMRC?

Errrrr- Rosalind Your holding of breath is not recommended. Unless HMRC assure us all is well with "customer service"

Thanks (0)
10th Sep 2015 15:10

Heartless organisation gone too far!

! recently had an appeal for late filing penalties dismissed out of hand even though the client had really serious mental issues and had been sectioned!  Not a reasonable excuse apparently.  Of course, I am going to fight it tooth and nail.

HMRC - Horrible Mean Robbing Cu...Creatures!


Thanks (1)
10th Sep 2015 16:18


I have received letters from HMRC recently asking for the information being requested to be delivered in less than 14 days. What the hell do these fools expect. Are we supposed to simply clear our desks and see to their requests? They can't answer a letter in less than 6 weeks but we should disrupt the work of the office to see to their demands. The whole point is that they are hell bent on imposing fines and penalties and turning down genuine claims.


HMRC are rapidly becoming a disgrace to Britain

Thanks (0)