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Accessible legal tips, know-how and news for anyone with a complaint or legal issue from Stephen Gold, author of The Return of Breaking Law, the book

Friday 12 May 2017

Handkerchiefs Out: Tax Man Loses

You are penalised by HM Revenue and Customs - that's the grand title behind which the tax man (or woman, of course) hides - for a late return or whatever and you feel like crying, screaming or eating from a mountain of jam doughnuts until your belly explodes. 

There are alternatives. You could ask HMR&C to cancel the penalty because you had a reasonable excuse for your transgression or otherwise to wipe out or reduce the penalty because of special circumstances. They have the power to do this. And you can appeal to the tax tribunal. 

Proving a reasonable excuse is no walkover: for example, see -http://www.breakinglaw.co.uk/search/label/tax%20penalties  But the taxpayer in the tribunal case of McDonald v Commissioners for HMR&C [2017] UKFTT 0265 (TC) has just done it despite opposition from you know who. The deadline for an on line return to go in came - and went- on 31 January 2012. Penalty of £100. Still no return within the following three months. Penalty of £10 PER DAY!!! Still no return within six months of the original deadline. Penalty of £300. After £1,300 had been clocked up in penalties, the return was lodged on 17 September 2012. 

The tribunal found that the taxpayer had gone through a prolonged period of difficulty which was traumatic for her. It involved her running her own self-employed business, looking after her own home, looking after her ailing parents and their home, attending to her parents' personal needs and, for a time, driving her father to visit her mother in various hospitals twice a day. This would have been physically and mentally exhausting for her. She then suffered the loss of her parents in April and September 2010. After their deaths she had had to deal with their personal effects and financial affairs. She then continued to work beyond retirement age and one reason was that she was conscious of the need to sort out her tax affairs with the help of her accountant.

HMR&C submitted that there was no reasonable excuse for the delay and no special circumstances for any reduction. They claimed that anyone's serious illness could only be taken into account if it meant that the taxpayer was incapacitated from dealing with their own affairs for the whole period from the return deadline until when the return ultimately went in.

The tribunal disagreed. The taxpayer had  a reasonable excuse for the delay and, anyway if she had not had a reasonable excuse, the tribunal would  have reduced the penalties to nil on the ground of spacial circumstances. A resounding victory although the decision could easily have gone the other way with a different tribunal.

If this helps you escape a penalty - and you can always quote the case to HMR&C when seeking an escape - then perhaps you could buy a copy of Breaking Law. There are lots of goodies in it, I promise you.