The Dog Ate My….

The Dog Ate My [Homework] Tax Return

crocodile

There has been much publicity recently regarding the funny [!?] HMRC Press Release regarding failed excuses for failing to file Tax Returns on time. Generally, the ‘joke’ seems to be that they are such poor excuses that they are on a par, or even worse claims that ‘The Dog Ate My Tax Return’. This shows the poor standard of education and lack of discipline in our schools. Anyone who has failed with that excuse at school should have at least graduated to ‘A Crocodile Ate My Tax Return’ with an invitation to the Tax Officer to go and retrieve it(!).

No doubt HMRC have much to put up with, and lousy excuses will inevitably test their patience. However, they are Civil servants who should be courteous and sympathetic to all tax payers – not just those they like because of them being ‘compliant’. With this in mind, I refer to the cases of P. Miller and Coomber. Case law shows HMRC are not always correct in their views on penalties. Advisors should always consider whether a penalty being charged is correct, proportional, or could even be suspended.

In the recent case of P. Miller the Courts held that HMRC were wrong in dismissing an application for a penalty to be suspended. The Judge followed the case of Hackett in focussing on the general obligations for all tax payers (rather than the narrow, specific facts of the tax payer’s own mistake) in deciding that there were sensible suspension conditions which could encourage him to avoid a future careless mistake. Thus the immediate imposition of a penalty liability could be avoided. No doubt good news for the tax payer.

HMRC had more success in the case of Coomber, where the Judge rejected a suggestion that a tax payer had a reasonable excuse for late payment when the tax cheque he had written was unexpectedly dishonoured by his bank. Reading the case in detail, it appears to be an object lesson in presenting all relevant evidence and ensuring it is correct in detail. Quoting from Clean Car Co Ltd, the Judge said, ‘The test of whether or not there is a reasonable excuse is an objective one … Was what the tax payer did a reasonable thing for a responsible trader, conscious of and intending to comply with his obligations regarding tax, but having the experience and other relevant attributes of the tax payer, and placed in the situation the taxpayer found himself at the relevant time a reasonable thing to do?’

From the Judge’s comments it may have proved better for the tax payer if he had produced evidence of why the bank dishonoured the cheque (any why it was unexpected) plus better documentary evidence as to the precise dates of events. It is plain details can affect the Judge’s view as to the strength of a case. In this new era of quasi-automatic penalties advisors need to be on alert for sensible mitigating circumstances. Reasonable excuses do go beyond ‘Disaster, death and disease’, to quote the HMRC general view, but throw the excuse ‘A Crocodile Ate My Tax Return’ on the fire!

What are advisors current experiences of penalties and mitigation?

HMRC Use Incorrect Procedure – A Revell v HMRC

We recently highlighted the importance of ensuring HMRC have taken the right steps in terms of the use of their powers – see Make Sure HMRC Notices are Valid! – Technicalities and Human Rights Law. This has been confirmed by a further recent case which again shows the importance of checking the facts.

In A Revell v HMRC the First-Tier Tribunal was asked to consider whether HMRC had acted correctly within the legislative framework for their powers. The taxpayer in the case had voluntarily submitted a tax return for 2008/09. HMRC had sent the request to deliver a return to the wrong address, despite having received the updated address for the taxpayer.

HMRC attempted to enquire into the return and determined that further tax should have been due. The taxpayer, however, appealed on the basis that the enquiry was invalid because he had not received a notice requesting a return under TMA 1970, s8.

The First-tier Tribunal agreed that no request to deliver a return had been made due to it being sent to the wrong address. They found that the taxpayer had not waived the requirement for the issue of a notice to file under TMA 1970, s8 by submitting a voluntary return. As such, they determined that his return should be treated as a notice of liability to income tax under s.7 and not a self-assessment return.

The appeal was therefore allowed. In addition, as the time limit to request a return had expired HMRC’s only further option would be to issue a discovery assessment. This would appear to then bring further technical considerations into play, as to whether such a discovery assessment itself would be valid based on case law (see our blog post on some of the case law in this area for further information).

This case again shows the importance of ensuring HMRC are acting within their powers as a first step. It also appears to raise some interesting questions as to the implications for making a voluntary tax return, as the Tribunal found that these should not be treated as a self-assessment return.

The Season of Goodwill is (hopefully) not ended forever, but certainly the Tax Season is Upon Us – “Joseph also went up from Galilee…into Bethlehem to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child” (Luke 2:4-7)

As the above quotation shows, paying taxes is nothing new.  As we approach the end of January and the deadline for filing and pay tax for the 2014/15 tax year we write to remind you that Eaves and Co are here to help.

Whether you are an individual struggling to understand your tax return form, or have not registered for HMRC’s Online Services in time, or an accountant needing extra assistance with a complex tax issue, we can help and hopefully ensure you are able to file before the 31 January deadline.   We have specialist extensive professional experience and expertise to deal with those knotty technical problems, plus relevant software and access to HMRC Online filing, so can file returns online at short notice.  All this with friendly service!

On another topic, and as a reminder for clients who are having difficulty raising finance, you may recall from previous messages that we have a contact who is involved in raising finance for all sorts of different purposes. Whatever weird and wonderful schemes your clients wish to consider – talk to Jonathan Smith on (Tel: 07778 523499) or (email jgsmith@jgsfinance.co.uk).  Quote reference ‘EVL’.  His website is www.jgsfinance.co.uk/asset-leasing-contract-hire-sale-leaseback.  This includes arranging loans to pay unpleasant tax bills.

As a reminder, Jonathan Smith qualified as a Chartered Accountant with Arthur Andersen but now works solely in raising finance. He is a man I have worked with over many years, and as a former partner of mine, a man who I trust and can recommend highly.

Reasonable Excuse – Further Successes for Taxpayers in the Courts

Two recent tax cases heard by the First-Tier Tribunal show that the courts continue to interpret the phrase “reasonable excuse” more generously that HMRC internal guidance allows for.

In S Taylor, a taxpayer was somewhat surprisingly found to have a reasonable excuse as he had appointed an agent and relied upon them to deal with the self-assessment form.  HMRC guidance is explicit that relying on a third-party is not a reasonable excuse, however, the Tribunal felt this to be incorrect in these specific circumstances.

The taxpayer delivered his papers to the agent in sufficient time but the agent had been busier than usual and had missed the taxpayer’s return.  The agent had not told the taxpayer this, and the Tribunal therefore felt that he had taken reasonable steps to file on time.

Another case showed a partial success for the taxpayer in Perfect Permit Ltd t/a Lofthouse Hill Gold Club.  HMRC had levied penalties in relation to late employer annual returns for 2008/09 and 2009/10.  The 2008/09 return was submitted more than a year late, whilst the 2009/10 return was filed 47 days late by the taxpayer’s new agent.

The Tribunal found that the failure of the previous agent to submit their returns did not constitute a reasonable excuse and it was up to the company to seek redress from the previous agent.  However, the new agents had encountered difficulty registered with HMRC.  The tribunal agreed that, had HMRC registered the new agents promptly, the return for 2009/10 would have been submitted on time.  As such, the delays caused by HMRC did constitute a reasonable excuse.

We would suggest that taxpayers seek advice where they feel that HMRC are being unreasonable with regard to reasonable excuse claims.  Eaves and Co would be delighted to help and would love to hear from you.

Reasonable Excuse – HMRC Publishes List of Worst Excuses, But Are They Ignoring Genuine Cases?

HMRC have released a list of the 10 worst excuses for missing the 31 January tax return deadline, however there are a number of cases where HMRC’s limited definition for what constitutes a reasonable excuse has been exposed.

 

The list of excuses published by HMRC is as follows:

 

  • My pet dog ate my tax return…and all the reminders.
  • I was up a mountain in Wales, and couldn’t find a postbox or get an internet signal.
  • I fell in with the wrong crowd.
  • I’ve been travelling the world, trying to escape from a foreign intelligence agency.
  • Barack Obama is in charge of my finances.
  • I’ve been busy looking after a flock of escaped parrots and some fox cubs.
  • A work colleague borrowed my tax return, to photocopy it, and didn’t give it back.
  • I live in a camper van in a supermarket car park.
  • My girlfriend’s pregnant.
  • I was in Australia.

 

Whilst these excuses are clearly unreasonable, recent cases have shown that HMRC continue to pursue their internal line that only ‘death, disease or disaster’ would constitute a reasonable excuse.  However, the legislation itself simply states that the excuse must be reasonable.  Recent cases have included excuses such as inability to pay (T James V HMRC), HMRC communication failure (M Styles v HMRC), HMRC system failures (Eclipse Generic Ltd v HMRC) and in the case of Spink v HMRC (2014), it was found that it was reasonable for a taxpayer to assume that tax was not payable until the actual tax status had been established.

 

Each case should be determined on its own facts and we believe HMRC are continuing to refuse reasonable excuse claims in circumstances that are “reasonable” under case law.

New Daily Penalties for Late Payment Quashed

In the recent co-decision tribunal case of Morgan v HMRC and Donaldson v HMRC (TC 9096 & 8431) the procedure behind issuing £10 daily late filing penalties was challenged.

Background & Legislation

Schedule 55 of FA 2009 allows HMRC to levy penalties of £10 per day if a self-assessment tax return has not been filed within 3 months of the filing date.  Such can penalties can be issued for up to 90 days, meaning that the maximum daily penalties issued totals £900.

In order for the daily penalties to be valid the legislation requires that HMRC “decides” whether to impose the penalties and notifies the taxpayer of the decision.

The taxpayers in question argued that the SA returns and subsequent reminders issued did not satisfy the above conditions and therefore the penalties were not valid.

 The questions for the tribunal to address were:

– Did the fact that daily penalties were automatically issued by an HMRC computer constitute a decision?

– Did the SA return and/or reminders constitute a notice of the liability to the daily penalties?

Decision

The tribunal found that it had been decided at a senior level, and as a general policy, to impose daily penalties where there’s a default, and accordingly the HMRC computers were programmed to deal with this. To do otherwise would have meant up to a million individual decisions – a completely impractical exercise. The tribunal, by the chairman’s casting vote, therefore found that there had been a HMRC decision which met the requirements of schedule 55.

With regards to the notice of a penalty HMRC relied on the SA returns and reminders which stated:

 “If we still haven’t received your online tax return by 30 April (31 January if you’re filing a paper one) a £10 daily penalty will be charged every day it remains outstanding. Daily penalties can be charged for a maximum of 90 days, starting from 1 February for paper tax returns or 1 May for online tax returns.”

The tribunal found that the statutory requirement was not met as the documents were ambiguous.  This was because of the use of ‘will’ in the first sentenced followed by ‘can’ in the second.

The tribunal found that the text merely indicated that HMRC could impose daily penalties.  They felt that even applying a purposive construction the terms of either document were not clear enough to impose a penalty from a particular date.

The fact that two dates were mentioned was not the point; the vagueness of the documents was their downfall. Accordingly the appeal on the daily penalties was allowed.

Impact of The Case

Presumably HMRC will update the text of their SA returns and reminder notices accordingly to make sure a ‘notice’ is given.

However, given the decision it will be interesting to see whether other taxpayers challenge daily penalties previously issued and if HMRC will appeal the case.

Child Benefit High Income Tax Charge – 5 Points You Might Not Know

From 7 January 2013, where a person earns more than £50,000 and they or their partner claim child benefit, a tax charge will apply in the form of the child benefit high income tax charge. The charge will apply to the person with the highest net adjusted income – which may not be the recipient of the child benefit.

The effect of the child benefit high income tax charge will be to apply a tax liability via the self-assessment tax return system. The amount of the charge will be tapered where the child benefit recipient or their partner earns between £50,000 and £60,000, with the effect that once income reaches £60,000 the entirety of the child benefit payment will be reclaimed through the tax charge.

There are a number of areas where care should be given:

1. The charge applies where either the person claiming child benefit or their partner earns more than £50,000. Therefore it will be necessary to consider the earnings of a taxpayer’s partner. The charge will apply to the person with the highest net adjusted income – which may not be the recipient of the child benefit.

2. The child benefit high income tax charge applies from 7 January 2013 therefore a tax liability could arise in relation to the current (2012/13) tax year with the tax being due for payment by 31 January 2014.

3. Where a person is required to make payments on account, this will include any tax arising as a result of the child benefit high income tax charge thus increasing the tax payable at 31 January and 31 July respectively.

4. Where a person earns more than £60,000 it may be preferable to elect not to receive the child benefit payment (known as a ‘nil award’)

5. Claiming child benefit can protect eligibility for the state pension by way of an NIC credit. Therefore taxpayers earning more than £60,000 that do not currently receive child benefit but become eligible in the future should ensure that they do register for child benefit initially and then elect to receive a nil award so as to preserve this protection.