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TaxAid charity helps settle ‘free advice’ dilemma

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TaxAid’s advice manager Gail Mackie explains how the charity dedicated to advising and supporting low-income and struggling households can offer a middle path to resolve the free advice debate.

23rd Jul 2021
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The past year has caused unfathomable financial distress for thousands across the UK. Small businesses have been left in tatters after many struggled to keep up with the changes in government support and what that meant in terms of tax legislation. 

UK tax advice charities TaxAid, founded in 1992, and Tax Help for Older People, founded in 2004, have supported thousands of struggling members of the public in need since long before the pandemic. In the last year alone, they have helped more than 14,000 low-income people who desperately needed advice on tax tangles they didn’t understand. 

According to their advice manager Gail Mackie, the two charities could provide an answer to the free advice issue frequently debated in Any Answers. There is a middle-ground between the two sides of the argument that could be filled with the work these charities do for members of the public in dire need of tax advice.

How does TaxAid work?

TaxAid and Tax Help for Older People both run national helplines through which most inquiries start (although they do take email enquiries and face-to-face appointments also). Their advisors take the initial call from members of the public, scope out the problem and why, and figure out what can be done to resolve it.

Both charities have a team of tax advisors and staff members alongside a group of volunteers.

“Quite a lot of our beneficiaries that are calling us don't know the tax terms. They don't know what it is that's happened - they just know they've got a letter from HMRC saying they owe some money and they don't know why. So our advisors would then go into detective mode to try and establish what's happened,” explained Mackie.

Around 80% of enquiries get sorted during that first call, she added. The remaining 20% would then be taken on for ‘casework’, where the charity would work through the issue more closely with the caller and HMRC over an extended period of time.

The charities are in part funded by HMRC as part of their responsibility to help more vulnerable people. They also receive financial support from the profession itself, such as the Big Four firms.

The ‘free advice’ debate

“It’s really difficult because the cost of professional tax advice is obstructive. I think a lot of people are of the view that tax and tax advice is a rich people's problem. But actually, as we've seen from working with charities, there are a lot of low income vulnerable people who do need that advice and simply can't access it, which is obviously why we exist,” Mackie commented.

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