The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) has welcomed the Government’s acceptance that further improvements are needed to the guidance on GOV.UK to help unrepresented taxpayers caught in a dispute with HMRC, and the Government’s commitment to continuing to refine and improve the extra support service that HMRC offer. LITRG was responding to the Government’s official response to a House of Commons Treasury Sub-Committee report on the UK tax authority.
The Government responded last week (10 October) to the Treasury Sub-Committee report titled Disputing Tax. The Treasury Sub-Committee report, published in July, made a number of recommendations after taking written and oral evidence by LITRG, the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) and other stakeholders.
LITRG welcomes the Government’s commitment to make improvements to services, and suggests how HMRC might capitalise on the report’s recommendations.
Victoria Todd, Head of LITRG Team, said:
“We have been concerned for some time that HMRC are failing to provide the necessary levels of guidance to ensure that unrepresented taxpayers can meet their obligations in full, as well as understand their entitlements under the tax and benefit systems.
“People can find themselves in dispute with HMRC for many different reasons, sometimes unexpectedly. For example, we see often cases where individuals receive an inaccuracy penalty because HMRC think they have acted carelessly whereas the taxpayer concerned thinks they have made a mistake despite having taken reasonable care. We therefore welcome the Government’s acknowledgement of the importance of guidance in helping unrepresented taxpayers who are in dispute with HMRC and their acceptance that further improvements can be made to the GOV.UK material.
“While focusing on disputes is a good starting point, we hope that HMRC will prioritise reviewing and improving the accessibility, quality and level of detail in their guidance on GOV.UK, not just in relation to disputes, but more widely. This should in turn help prevent disputes arising in the first place.”
The Sub-Committee’s report also examined how HMRC treat vulnerable taxpayers involved in disputes and made three specific recommendations, which the Government has accepted in full.
Victoria Todd said:
“LITRG has always supported HMRC’s extra support service and it is reassuring that the Government is committed to continuing to refine and improve this service. Understanding whether there are any additional ‘drivers of need’ or characteristics that indicate vulnerability, that HMRC is not currently aware of, is a good start.
“HMRC are also considering how to help customers who need extra support in compliance interventions. It is important, when considering compliance interventions and tax disputes more generally, that HMRC ensure they do not overstep the boundaries in cases where taxpayers need independent and impartial advice. This is particularly important in cases that go through the appeals process, where it is not appropriate for HMRC to be supporting and advising people. Instead, HMRC should ensure that they signpost people to the tax charities or professional advisers, as appropriate.
“LITRG remains committed to working with HMRC and sharing our experience to support further improvements to services and guidance for unrepresented and vulnerable taxpayers.”
One of the ways LITRG contributes to the CIOT’s public benefit role is by working for greater public understanding of tax matters via four websites. The LITRG website aims to provide the most comprehensive, up to date source of tax, national insurance contributions and tax credits guidance for the low-income population. In 2018, there were nearly five million visitors across the four websites – a significant increase on the three million in 2016 and just over four million in 2017. Although aimed at low income taxpayers, the websites receive regular positive feedback from CIOT members who use them in their work and they are often referenced in parliamentary library research briefings. The websites also help to gather feedback and evidence which is used to support LITRG’s consultation responses, Parliamentary submissions and raise issues with HMRC.