A Kent accountant has accused HM Customs and Revenue of adopting “bully-boy” tactics with people and firms it believes are avoiding paying tax.
Canterbury-based Burgess Hodgson, claims the methods include threatening letters, after-hours telephone calls, workplace visits and tax collectors making home calls to get outstanding tax payments.
“In one case, a client had a call at home at 7.30pm from someone from HMRC,” says Mike Horne, a partner with Burgess Hodgson. “Our client was wary as conmen have been calling people on phishing trips, trying to get them to give out sensitive financial details.
“When he refused to discuss the matter on the telephone, he was given a 24-hour deadline to get in touch.
“In another case, we were told by HMRC that one of our clients - who had a small outstanding tax liability - would be visited at home to arrange collection,” said Mr Horne.
“The next day we spoke to the client and HMRC had already been to his house (he was out) and dropped off a letter - even though we had not received any previous correspondence about the underpayment.”
Burgess Hodgson says people should not get worried. “Despite the tactics, our advice is - don’t panic. Often the letters appear more aggressive that the situation merits and in some cases are just plain wrong,” said Mr Horne.
But HMRC says it has a duty to collect tax, but is sympathetic to those struggling to pay.
“Our purpose is to make sure that the money is available to fund the UK’s public services,” said Georgina Myles from HMRC
“In the current difficult economic climate, it is more important than ever that HMRC helps and supports customers fulfill their obligations, while relentlessly pursuing those who bend or break the rules.
“Our HMRC plan, published in the last budget, confirms our approach and includes an updated description of how we will respond to tax avoidance, deliberate non-compliance and fraud,” said Mrs Myles.
“We take a sympathetic approach to both individuals and businesses that have genuine short-term difficulties in paying the tax they owe. Where appropriate, HMRC will aim to come to an arrangement with them to give time to pay and to avoid taking action that would lead to an otherwise viable business – or individual - becoming insolvent.”
HMRC had introduced a new Business Payment Support Service. It helps businesses in temporary financial difficulty to pay their tax bill to a realistic timetable. The service is available via the HMRC website.
Those businesses that have outstanding tax debts, or are unable to make a payment can use a dedicated helpline on 0845 302 1435 and the line is open from 8am to 8pm during the week and 8am to 4pm on weekends.