How did the Taxman behave? – End of term reports 2009

If you are unhappy about the way the taxman is treating you then you can complain to the Official Adjudicator or to the Ombudsman.  Both have issued ‘school reports’ on HMRC for the year ended 31st March 2009.  Many complaints are to do with how HMRC handled a Tax Enquiry or a Compliance Check.  So how well (or badly) did the taxman behave?

So:  did the Adjudicator give the taxman a gold star?
Far from it!  The Adjudicator took on 2,092 complaints about HMRC in 2008/09.  HMRC effectively lost two thirds of all cases.  To compound matters the Adjudicator had a backlog of over 2,000 complaints against the taxman, waiting to be settled, and you can expect to wait a year for a conclusion from the Adjudicator.  Cynics suggest this is because HMRC provide the staff!  And there is no effective way to complain about delays by the Adjudicator!
A main area for complaint was the failure by tax officers to correctly apply a concession for writing off tax arrears where HMRC has been slow to use information.

Was the Ombudsman more impressed?
Not at all.  There were 2,159 complaints about HMRC to the ombudsman during the year. 113 older cases relating to HMRC were also concluded.  The Ombudsman tries to sort out complaints in a quick informal way, only a minority of cases are dealt with by an in-depth investigation.  In 2008/09 only 24 HMRC complaints were fully investigated.  Given that these are the cases that got through the other complaints’ processes, a staggering 40% of these were fully or partly upheld!  It is not reported how many of the 2,000+ informal settlements found against the taxman.  Frustratingly, over a quarter of cases take more than a year.
In one case the taxman was criticised for being ‘self-serving and mean-spirited’ and pursuing the taxpayer ‘with a reckless disregard for his rights’. The taxpayer suffered severe detriment and the Ombudsman recommended a compensation payment of £50,000.  It can pay to complain.

Should I complain about HMRC?
The time and effort needed firstly to get through HMRC’s own complaints procedure means that only a resilient taxpayer is likely to take their case all the way.  It has to be said that pursuing a complaint against HMRC can be a soul-destroying task.  But where taxpayers feel ground down by the inflexible state machinery and the jobs-worth mentality of bureaucrats there is at least a remedy of sorts.  Bear in mind that before complaints reach these bodies you first have to approach the inspector’s line manager.  You can then go ‘off-line’ for so-called ‘Internal Review’.  You can then start the formal complaints procedure; involving another HMRC official.  You can ask your MP for informal help (which can be very successful).  Only then if you are still frustrated do you need to approach the Adjudicator/Ombudsman.  Yet their reports show that even after HMRC have carried out their own reviews at three levels (at least) they still make serious mistakes in over 1,000 cases – each and every year!

Do I Need Professional Help?
Where substantial sums are involved (or may be due in compensation) then it can be very worthwhile employing professionals experienced in finding their way through the bureaucratic maze.
Lynam Tax Dispute Experts have decades of experience in sorting out contentious issues with the taxman.
For a free and totally confidential initial discussion call Paul Lynam now on:  0845 643 9997.

NB. Lynam Tax does not deal with working family tax credit issues.