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When things go wrong

Basics

When things go wrong

If you find you cannot resolve your issue by contacting HMRC through the normal channels it may be necessary to complain or appeal.

In this section we look at how to resolve disputes with HMRC and how to complain to HMRC about their treatment of you. We also provide you with guidance on what to do if you are unable to pay you tax bill, or if you have received a tax credits overpayment and have to repay it.

Which route you take depends on the issue you have. For example; if you have an underpayment of tax and are in dispute with HMRC over an HMRC Error (Extra Statutory Concession A19, [ESC A19]) then the complaint route is applicable. However if the investigation finds that it is actually an employer/pension provider error but HMRC are still pursuing you for the lost tax the appeal route is applicable.

  • How do I complain to HMRC? – you will find this guide helpful if you are not happy with the way HMRC is dealing with you.
  • Tax appeals - This guide will help you if you have a right of appeal against an HMRC decision on a direct tax issue.
  • What if I cannot pay my tax bill? – we explain what to do if you owe HMRC money, but you are not able to pay.

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How to complain

How do I complain to HMRC?

HMRC have published a charter, your charter’ that sets out what you can expect from them and what they expect from you.

This is part of HMRC’s undertaking to provide an even-handed and accurate service, based on mutual trust and respect.

If you are not happy with HMRC’s service or the way they have treated you, you may wish to make a complaint. We explain how to make a complaint to HMRC in this section. We also explain how to take matters further, if your complaint is not settled immediately to your satisfaction and what compensation you may seek if things have been handled badly.

If you disagree with a decision that HMRC have made, you may be able to make an appeal.

What are my rights and responsibilities in connection with tax?

HMRC expect you to be honest, to take care to get your tax right and to show their staff respect.
Equally, you can expect HMRC to show you respect, to help and support you with your tax, to treat you as honest and even-handedly. They must protect your information and respect your privacy.

When can I complain?

Most people do not like to complain, but if you are not happy with the way that HMRC are dealing with you then you should understand what you can do about it.

There are many things that may form the basis for a complaint. Do you think you:

  • have had to wait too long?
  • have been treated unfairly or impolitely?
  • have been discriminated against? You may feel that you have not received due consideration for any particular needs you might have, because of, a disability, your age or not having English as your first language.
  • are not getting the right amounts of money?
  • are not paying the right amounts of tax or National Insurance?
  • are not getting the right benefits, credits or allowances?
  • have been given incorrect advice or information?
  • received bad service in some other way?

Being denied the right amounts of money or the right benefits may be a case for making an appeal. But sometimes you may not receive what you are entitled to because of delay or an administrative problem. If that is the case, a complaint is the right remedy.

How do I make a complaint?

To make a complaint, you should write to, telephone or fax the HMRC office that you have been dealing with. Most problems can be dealt with in this way. It is generally not possible to complain to HMRC by email.

You should tell them that you are unhappy and wish to complain.

If you write a letter, put ‘complaint’ on the envelope and at the top of the letter. If part or all of your complaint is due to discrimination, make that clear at the outset. This should ensure that your letter is passed directly to HMRC's complaints section.

What information should I provide to HMRC?

To be able to help with your complaint quickly, HMRC will need to know your full name, your National Insurance number and/or your Unique Taxpayer Reference for self assessment, your address and the last reference number that they used when contacting you. A telephone number where and when they might contact you would also be helpful.

Set out in the complaint what has gone wrong, when it happened, who you dealt with and what effect it has had on you. You should also set down what you want to see done to put it right. If the reason for your complaint is causing you hardship or distress, then tell HMRC,

What response can I expect from HMRC?

HMRC should respond very quickly. If you do not hear from HMRC within four weeks, then chase them. If they delay in responding to your complaint, you may be able to make a claim for compensation later.

If it is not possible to give a full reply within a reasonable time, HMRC should provide an interim response with information on the action they are taking. They should tell you when you can expect a full response.

Their full reply should include details of who you can contact if you feel the complaint is not dealt with in a proper manner.
If you prefer not to deal with the same people in the office you have been dealing with before, or have tried that and you are still unhappy, then you can ask for your complaint to be passed straight to a complaints handler. You can do this whether you are making your complaint in writing or by telephone.

What can I do if my complaint is not resolved to my satisfaction?

If you are unhappy with the response to your complaint, you can escalate your problem by once again addressing your letter as a complaint, but asking for the letter to be passed to a different complaints handler and for them to review the complaint again.
Again, you should expect a response within four weeks, after which time you should chase them if necessary. This is the final point of HMRC’s internal complaints procedure.

When do I go to the Adjudicator and the Ombudsman?

The Adjudicator

If you are still unhappy after the HMRC complaints procedure has reached its conclusion, you can ask the Adjudicator to look into your complaint.
The Adjudicator is independent of HMRC and tries to find solutions by mediation or by making formal recommendations. The Adjudicator is bound by the same policies and processes as HMRC and cannot look through them to decide whether they are fair or not. The Adjudicator will ensure that HMRC have followed their policies and processes correctly.

The Ombudsman

You may contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who investigates cases where bad administration by any Government department has led to an injustice that has not been remedied.

The Ombudsman does not normally look at cases until they have been through the Adjudicator.

You cannot contact the Ombudsman directly. You must ask your MP to do this for you. The Ombudsman's office will apply its selection process to decide which cases to investigate.

The Ombudsman is entirely independent and can also consider complaints about the Adjudicators Office, but will not normally select a case for investigation if the Adjudicator appears to have taken account of everything relevant.

Do I have to pay my tax bill while HMRC are considering my complaint?

If you have an outstanding tax bill, we suggest that you pay the correct amount of tax you consider is due whilst HMRC are looking into your complaint.

If this proves to be less than the amount you actually need to pay, you may be charged interest on the amount paid late. Equally, if you pay too much and are due a repayment, HMRC will pay you the repayment and may also pay you interest on the overpaid tax from a set date.

If you decide to pay the whole amount while you go through the process, put it in writing that it is a ‘payment on account’. Not doing this may mean that HMRC refuse to consider HMRC error (ESC A19) on the basis that there is not an arrear or refuse to pay the amount back if your complaint successful.

How will HMRC resolve my complaint?

When you complain, HMRC will hopefully resolve your complaint to your satisfaction.

HMRC may:

  • say sorry and put things right;
  • explain what went wrong; and
  • consider refunding your reasonable costs and making a consolatory payment.

When you complain, you should ask for reimbursement of your expenses, for example, postage, phone calls and professional fees. You should also ask for compensation if you have been caused worry, distress or unreasonable delays.

What is Extra Statutory Concession A19?

If HMRC have not used information they had in their possession and are therefore late in asking you for money that is owed, they will not always seek the full amount that is due. For example, if you told them that you were now receiving a state pension, but they did not take any action to collect the tax due for two years, you may not have to pay the tax you owe.

This will only apply if you could reasonably have believed that you did not owe HMRC any more money. If you think this might apply to you then you should tell HMRC.

If you have any doubts, we suggest you read our guide on ESC A19, which covers the position in more detail.

Can I claim reimbursement of my costs?

Whilst your complaint is being sorted out you may be able to make a claim for costs you have incurred in trying to get things sorted out.

You can do this at any time while HMRC are looking at your complaint, or if you can tell them about your costs when you first make your complaint they may be able to process the claim quicker.

The person dealing with your complaint should be able to help you decide if you can make a claim. You may be asked for receipts or invoices to support your claim.

You cannot be compensated for your own time spent in sorting things out unless you can show that you have lost earnings as a direct result. You may however be able to reclaim the costs of a tax adviser.

Can I claim compensation for worry, distress or extra delay?

Mistakes and delays may cause you a great deal of worry or distress. HMRC say they realise how upsetting this can be. If you have suffered worry or distress, because of HMRC’s treatment of you, you should let them know. They may be able to pay you an amount to recognise your particular circumstances and so apologise for the way they have treated you.

HMRC do not intend for these payments to put a value on the distress you have suffered, but that does not mean that you should hold back from asking for substantial compensation where merited, for example if HMRC's actions have made you unwell.

You will not be able to claim compensation simply because of a difference of opinion between HMRC and you, even if HMRC are shown to have been wrong. You may be able to claim compensation, however, if HMRC took an unreasonable view of the law or failed you in some other way.

If HMRC handle your complaint badly, they may pay you a further sum. For example, if you sent them a reminder and there was a further delay in their response.

All such compensatory payments are tax-free and you need not declare them for tax purposes or show them on your tax return.

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How to appeal

Tax appeals

You may find this section helpful when you disagree with a decision HMRC have made.

This guide explains the basics of the. We then provide detailed sections, which aim to help you work through all the stages of resolving a tax dispute with HMRC, including making an appeal to the independent tax tribunal.

In this guide, we are concerned with direct tax only, by which we mean things like income tax and National Insurance contributions; the definition of direct tax also includes other things that you might not expect, like student loan repayments. HMRC provide a list of direct taxes covered by their direct tax appeal process.

Another option that may be available to you when you disagree with a decision HMRC have made is ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’. This can be used alongside the appeal process.

This section does not cover the following:

  • HMRC are hassling you for information you know you ought to give them or HMRC have discovered something you had not told them. You will have to sort that out with HMRC. You can find more information on enquiries in the self-employment section of this website.
  • If your dispute is about tax credits, go to the tax credits and benefits section of this website, or the HMRC guidance.
  • HMRC are demanding money that you owe, but you cannot afford to pay.

What is the appeal process?

If you disagree with HMRC and you have a right of appeal, you can make an appeal in writing to HMRC. You must normally make an appeal within 30 days of HMRC’s notice of their decision.

HMRC will consider your appeal. They will either agree with you and amend their decision or confirm their original decision. They will confirm their position in writing. You will have 30 days from the new decision to appeal, if you still do not agree with HMRC.

If you cannot agree your position with HMRC, HMRC may offer you a review. You can request a review at any time. A review is an internal process, carried out by another HMRC officer, not previously involved in your case.

If you still cannot agree your position with HMRC after a review, or do not want a review, you can appeal to the First-tier Tribunal. The tribunal will make a decision about your case. If you disagree with the tribunal’s decision, you may be able to make a further appeal. If you take your case further, you may have to pay HMRC’s costs as well as your own, so you should think carefully before doing so.

Can I make an appeal?

You can make an appeal if you have the right to appeal against an HMRC decision. You may have a right of appeal where HMRC, for example:

  • are looking into your tax affairs and demanding excessive amounts of information or taking too long without bringing their enquiries to an end;
  • have altered your self assessment after an enquiry because they think you got it wrong;
  • have made an assessment of tax on you or are disallowing a claim to a relief;
  • have refused you a sub-contractor's certificate;
  • have issued a coding notice which you think is wrong;
  • are demanding a penalty or surcharge unfairly.

When HMRC write to you with a decision, they should also tell you whether or not you have a right of appeal. If you do not know whether you have a right of appeal, ask HMRC in writing.

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