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How many times have you rung HMRC, left a message, spoken to somebody and later on found there has been a denial that in fact they have received a telephone call? They even ask you who you spoke to even though the Revenue do not give names of their staff, what time is was etc.

Now there is a good note that appeared in one of the tax articles of Taxation Web.

HMRC are encouraging taxpayers and tax credit claimants to deal with them by telephone; often through contact centres which are a perishing nuisance.

For instance, the tax credits helpline is a prime example. Claimants can ring up to check their entitlement, renew their claims, notify any changes of income or circumstances or simply ring for advice.

Whilst dealing with HMRC by telephone is more accessible to the taxpayers, one of the disadvantages is that a taxpayer may act, or abstain from acting, in reliance on what HMRC have said to them.

This can become a problem for the taxpayer who does not have a professional adviser to help them to interpret or double-check the information given to them by HMRC.

The law, as decided by the judges, is little help to a taxpayer with no representation.

According to recent decided cases, a taxpayer who wishes to rely on information given to them by HMRC must put their question in writing and make it clear that they are seeking a considered opinion on which they wish to rely.

Unsurprisingly, disputes over information given by HMRC do occur.

Taxpayers or claimants may mis-hear or misunderstand what they are being told, or HMRC can get things wrong. The consequence, if the taxpayer or claimant relies on incorrect advice, can be a tax liability or tax credit overpayment that need not have occurred.

The problem is proving the telephone calls did in fact occur and what was said.

It is vital that taxpayers or claimants do not withhold any relevant information when asking HMRC for advice.

What to do

When dealing with HMRC it is imperative you make a note of the following:

  • Date of the call
  • Time of the call
  • Name of the officer you spoke to
  • What each of you said; in particular what the officer said to you if you propose to rely on that information.

This applies to all telephone calls made to HMRC, even if it is just a quick call.

What if HMRC have no record of that call

It helps if you have independent proof of the call – for example, a phone bill entry.

However, not all calls are made from landline telephones and pay-as-you-go mobile phones do no keep records of calls.

If HMRC deny a telephone call made place and you have no proof then you can apply to the Data Protection (SAR) Unit for copies of any information you are after. These can be in the form of CDs of telephone conversations and any contemporaneous records kept of those calls.

These are known as ‘subject access requests’ or SARs.

For tax credits, SARs should be made to:-

HM Revenue and Customs – Tax Credits

Subject Access Request Team

Floor 1 Area E, St Marks House

Stanley Street

Preston

Lancashire

PR1 4AT

HMRC will proceed as if there has been no call and find in their own favour in any dispute that replies on the existence of a call if you do not follow these steps.

More worryingly, the Adjudicator’s Office has been prone to back HMRC up.

It is also a good idea to remind HMRC to listen to all relevant telephone calls as Step 9 of their guidance manual requires.

We have an ongoing case where the Revenue say they have no records of any calls. We have asked them for “confirmation that you have checked firstly the notes field to any documents captured within the electronic folder system for any record of any telephone conversation” and that “you contact the following officers to confirm they have not kept any manual records of any telephone conversations with our client”.

They have now come back to tell us that for some reason or another HMRC delete records after a certain amount of time.

This is the sort of experience we have had which is quite ridiculous given that the subject matter is whether or not the client has dealt dishonestly and our contention is that she has followed instructions given to her by HMRC and now they say they have no record of the telephone calls.

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