I have been an accountant in practice since 1985, 30 years. I believe in the law, in justice and doing things the right way. I still believe in all that but the world has changed, and accountants are now up against a public body that is out of control and would be outside the law, except that they now change the law to suit their needs as and when required.
Why am I setting this out. The answer is that the pressure of living in this world has sent many accountants near to the edge. Interestingly, this is another aim of HMRC. It is well known that the take when a professional is not involved is 5 to 10 times more.
For those of you that do not want to read all that follows, then the summation is as follows.
HMRC have developed tactics from new legislation to suit themselves, press spin, nudge letters, rapid use of debt collection even where there is no debt, not copying in accountants, if accountants are copied in making it over 5 days after the client, speaking directly to taxpayer even when agent appointed, sending letters on Fridays, just before Xmas or to be dealt with in January, the accountants busiest month. The list can go on. The aim and the achieved result is to swamp professionals so they cannot earn a living. To also upset honest hardworking taxpayers, who then want comfort from their professionals taking up even more of their time, meaning even less time for them to do the work that pays.
In theory the accountant should agree a fee for all of this work. Quite possibly the taxpayer should understand the professional should be paid. But very often the taxpayer is faced with a tax demand for tens of thousands of pounds, that they do not understand where the figure comes from, and understand even less when told it is not actual tax due, but an amount HMRC have decided they want in their bank rather than the taxpayer. For the professional he cannot explain what is happening, he cannot explain what needs to be done, and how many hours work it will take, he cannot second guess what law will be changed next, what new interpretations the courts will come up with to assist HMRC and hence no fee can be agreed. However, even though no fees will be received, most professionals will not walk away from their clients, and hence give up hours of their time fighting this huge adversary, because they cannot believe that this racketeering can be allowed to continue.
Unfortunately after 3 years of attrition, where I personally have lost 40% of my time, the situation has reached a real low. For me personally this has manifested itself in not returning calls and e mails, in not being available. I have had to prioritise trying to deal with the deluge of HMRC correspondence, behind the scenes manoeuvring, debt collectors who use misleading tactics while visiting houses in front of families, keeping up with the latest twisted court decision, trying to come up with new tactics, when we should be dealing with the law.
A lot of clients will find this behaviour unacceptable and will change their adviser, as trust and respect built up over many years is replaced with anger.
My request is to not get angry with the adviser, it is HMRC that have worked to achieve this, but to try and support the adviser who does not know what it is he needs to do, but will not give up trying when such a huge injustice has been unleashed. My policy in matters such as these is that you need to be still there to have a chance. I strongly believe that if you give your money to HMRC it is unlikely you will see it again, if not ever, certainly for a very long time.
The public may think that this is all about the rich serial tax avoiders. It isn’t and it never was, but that is how it is dressed up. Entrepreneurs relief is in law to encourage businesses, but HMRC do not like it so challenge all claims to try and find anything that will deny it. The latest attack is on members voluntary liquidations because HMRC do not like the fact that taxpayers are using this to pay tax at a lower rate, which is not what the taxpayer should want to be doing. Those who incorporated goodwill are now having their businesses destroyed retrospectively because they used the law to pay a lower rate of tax. Low salary and dividends is being outlawed by a change in legislation, but the professionals are waiting for the back dating interpretation which is the norm in recent history. Try and do a business reorganisation for which HMRC clearance is needed and HMRC get involved in changing it so that the tax take is higher, regardless of any commercial reality to the business purpose.
The Rangers case is amazing because the lower courts found against HMRC and said there was no grounds for appeal. HMRC over ruled the courts and eventually at the Court of Appeal have introduced a new concept of the correct amount of tax that ought morally to be paid in these times of austerity. This is truly dangerous.
The APN legislation is of course the biggest assault on taxpayers. HMRC decide you owe tax, you must pay it and you cannot argue. This is why all these judicial review cases are going on, because that is the only method left to challenge a public body who have attempted to remove the normal rules of law from the system.
The whole APN legislation is about when tax should be paid, as with the Cotter, Rouse and De Silva cases that HMRC spent so much time and money pursuing. HMRC however, delay any actual tax dispute case, cases that actually settle whether the tax is due or not. Even worse now, when they are forced to go to court, they have started coming up with criminal investigations against main litigants which delays the main tax dispute for at least another 5 years. Or in another recent development remove a representative sample arrangement so that the case needs to be delayed because now they need to get more information from more people.
A little piece of hope that may be the tide is turning is the Montpellier case the other day, showing how badly written and thought out the APN legislation is, in that the courts have found that this tax planning did not fall within the APN legislation, but a whole load of taxpayers have had their lives and businesses destroyed. How are these now going to be compensated? My guess personally, is that HMRC will appeal and they may be able to put pressure again on the courts and get a decision their way. I hope this does not happen, as the judiciary must remain independent otherwise our democracy has gone. At the moment the very powerful public body called HMRC are challenging this democracy, which is why the professionals must continue to fight.