These are questions we are asked a lot and we receive a number of enquiries about if we can provide a template.
Some people may promise you that such a thing exists. It doesn’t. Indeed, when you think about it, it would be very surprising if such a template could exist.
HMRC has vast responsibilities and enormous powers founded on literally thousands of bits of law. A dispute with HMRC can be about almost anything: VAT, corporation tax, personal tax, national insurance, stamp duty, inheritance tax, excise duty, import duty, late filing penalties, company wrongdoing penalties, personal wrongdoing penalties; the list goes on. Even within each of these areas, the complexity of the law and the expert knowledge needed means that only certain law firms will have the experience needed to:
If you receive an assessment, penalty or other similar allegation from HMRC, alleging a failure or error by you or your company, and demanding you pay HMRC money, it is important to take legal advice from specialists as soon as possible, unless you are absolutely sure that you do not want to challenge HMRC’s allegations.
HMRC's letter to you will explain that you have a right to have the decision reviewed, or submitted to the tax tribunal but the letter will not make clear is that this is very often a complex and technical legal matter.
Whilst you have lived all of the background of the dispute, the decision of the Reviews and Appeals team, or the Tribunal Judge, will be based on the law as well as the facts. If you do not deal with the legal basis behind the decision, and why it is wrong, it greatly increases the chances of the decision being upheld, and your challenge being rejected. This could of course have serious legal and financial consequences for you or your company.
You may be tempted to try the initial challenge yourself; hoping that you can engage lawyers later on if it ‘gets out of hand’. Whilst this may seem like a sensible way to try and save money, it is not something we would recommend. It can cause sizeable problems and actually greatly increase your costs.
You need to understand the legal strengths and weaknesses of your case before you decide how to proceed. By bringing in lawyers after the process has started it increases the chance that previous steps will have to be undone, or that things will already have been submitted to HMRC in a less than ideal way. This may cause you further problems. In some cases this can result in individuals having to instruct their legal teams to expend further time and money writing to HMRC or applying to the Tax Tribunal for permission to amend the basis of the appeal in order to correct mistakes made earlier in the process.
Remember, whilst the Tax Tribunal sounds far less formal than Court, it is in many ways the same. If the matter proceeds to the Tax Tribunal that will be heard in front of the Tax Tribunal Judge. Witness statements will be prepared and submitted and witnesses will be cross-examined. Judgment will be handed down and will be binding upon the parties subject to any further appeal to the Upper Tier Tax Tribunal.
Perhaps most tellingly, HMRC employs a whole team of qualified lawyers to handle its reviews and appeals. Despite this HMRC still pays expert tax lawyers to represent it in the Tax Tribunals.
If HMRC needs expert advice when dealing with disputes, that should tell you how important it is for you to get the right advice as early as possible.
At Altion Law we are specialists at advising and representing parties who have received HMRC assessments and wrongdoing penalties from HMRC. A lot of the issues we deal with are complex and our team are used to dealing with these types of enquiries. If you would like to have a confidential discussion with a member of our team, if you complete our contact us form, we will call you back at a time that is suitable for you or you can contact us directly on 01908 414990.