HMRC receives around 7,000 complaints from dissatisfied taxpayers each month. This may sound significant, but when you consider that HMRC officials liaise with millions of customers each year by webchat, phone call, letter and iForm, it’s a tiny percentage of less than 1%. However, as encouraging as these figures are, they are cold comfort to those who find themselves amongst the 1%. Dealing with tax issues can be a thankless task at the best of times but becomes almost intolerable when you receive poor customer service from HMRC. Sometimes, the service is so dire that a taxpayer wishes to raise a formal complaint. HMRC operates a 2-tiered system through which complaints are handled internally. If you remain dissatisfied, you can escalate the issue to the Adjudicator. We explain the role of the Adjudicator in more detail below.
At Altion Law, we have a dedicated HMRC team that deals exclusively with HMRC-related issues, making us ideally placed to assist you in pursuing a complaint against HMRC and securing a positive outcome.
What is the Adjudicator’s Role?
The role of the adjudicator was introduced in the early 1990’s. It acts as an independent third tier to investigate complaints against HMRC and the Valuation Office Agency. The services of the Adjudicator are free and accessible to everyone.
The Adjudicator’s Office considers any complaint within its remit and decides whether to reject, uphold or partially uphold it. When making its decision, the Adjudicator seeks to identify any lessons that HMRC can learn from the case to assist its officers in improving the service given to taxpayers going forward.
Adjudicators are is intended to act as a check on HMRC. As an independent body, it must act impartially and thoroughly consider HMRC’s conduct, having regard to the wider circumstances of a case, such as whether the taxpayer was in a vulnerable position. When reaching its decision, the Adjudicator will consider whether HMRC acted reasonably and proportionately and applied its rules, guidance and any other pertinent material in a fair and consistent manner.
They will also review how HMRC handled the complaint. The relevant officers are expected to have exercised skill and understanding, and to have explained their decision comprehensively and in plain English to the taxpayer. They should also have referred the taxpayer, where necessary, to any applicable rules and legislation that support their findings.
What types of issues can the Adjudicator investigate?
The Adjudicator cannot investigate complaints relating to policy. Rather, it can consider whether a particular policy applies to any given taxpayer and, if so, whether HMRC applied it correctly and fairly.
Examples of the types of issues the Adjudicator’s Office is tasked with considering include the following:
- Whether HMRC applied the relevant policies and guidance fairly and consistently.
- Any administrative errors such as poor, misleading or incorrect advice and delays.
- The conduct of HMRC staff, including any alleged discourtesy.
- Where discretion was applied, whether it was used properly and fairly.
Real-life instances in which the Adjudicator has intervened include a taxpayer’s self-assessment details being set up wrongly and HMRC issuing incorrect penalties as a result, and a case involving a catalogue of errors by HMRC when seeking to recover a debt against a vulnerable taxpayer.
What powers does the Adjudicator have?
The outcome of the Adjudicator’s review of a complaint can be that it is rejected, upheld or partially upheld. According to the Adjudicator Office’s Annual Report for 2023, it received 630 complaints about HMRC during 2022-2023, of which 66 were upheld and 227 were partially upheld.
If the Adjudicator feels that HMRC has fallen short, it will recommend the course of action HMRC should take to remedy its failings. Examples of the type of measures they can recommend include:
- Compensating the taxpayer financially. Such payments tend to be modest, usually less than £100.
- Waiving a valid entitlement to a debt when HMRC has delayed in collecting it or failed to explain what it relates to, despite repeated requests from the customer.
- Repaying tax.
- Repaying the reasonable costs incurred by the taxpayer in pursuing their complaint, including solicitors’ and accountants’ fees.
How do you complain to the Adjudicator?
You cannot complain to the Adjudicator without first exhausting HMRC’s internal complaints procedure.
Firstly, you must raise a complaint with the department handling your case, asking them to review it. If you are unhappy with the outcome of the first review, you can ask the department to look at the issue again. If you remain dissatisfied, you can refer the matter to the Adjudicator. The Adjudicator is unlikely to review any complaint received later than 6 months after HMRC’s second decision, so it is crucial to act quickly.
When complaining to the Adjudicator, you must clearly set out your complaint and what you hope to achieve from it, providing evidence in support of your position. You only have one chance to complain to the Adjudicator, so your complaint must be as comprehensive and watertight as possible. Expert solicitors, like ours, will assist you in preparing the most robust complaint, with the best chance of success.
Once the Adjudicator has reviewed your case, they will provide a written response to you and the relevant HMRC department. If you do not accept the Adjudicator’s decision, you cannot appeal it to the Adjudicator but must instead ask an MP to pursue the matter with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
How we can help if you wish to complain about HMRC
Since the pandemic, we have seen a marked increase in the number of clients seeking our assistance in pursuing complaints against HMRC. Considerable backlogs are yet to be cleared, and as a result, the level of service provided by HMRC sometimes falls short of what is expected, leaving taxpayers stuck in the system with little or no communication from HMRC. If you are in this position, we are here to help. We have vast experience in dealing with complaints against HMRC. We will guide you through the process, ensuring your complaint is presented as forcefully as possible at each stage, and a fair result is achieved.