Making complaints to HMRC
You may sometimes find yourself in the position of having to make a complaint to or about HMRC. ICAEW Tax Faculty has produced this guide to help you through this process.
What is a complaint?
Complaints may be made for many reasons, but the main ones are likely to be:
- errors or delays;
- procedural issues within HMRC;
- HMRC staff attitude or behaviour; and
- unauthorised disclosure of information by HMRC.
Complaints may be formal or informal; HMRC does not distinguish between the two and has a policy of treating any expression of dissatisfaction as a complaint.
A formal complaint is one that you might expect to be formally investigated, maybe with a view to redress. An informal complaint may be one in which you simply express your dissatisfaction, where you want HMRC to be aware of a problem but do not propose to seek compensation.
If HMRC has made a decision with which you disagree, or is charging incorrect tax or penalties, the appeals procedures should be followed regardless of whether you are also making a complaint.
How to avoid the need to make a complaint
Specific client cases
If you have a problem with a delay or a procedural matter, you will often be able to resolve it informally by telephoning the agent dedicated line on 0300 200 3311 or other appropriate helpline.
If that fails, try using HMRC’s agent account manager service. This service is available where it has not been possible to resolve a client’s issue through the usual channels. You will need to have registered for the service first and issues are raised by completing an online form. HMRC undertakes to get back to agents within three working days of an issue being raised with them, to discuss how best to resolve it.
Alternatively, consider whether you can resolve matters informally, either in writing or by telephone. If a formal complaint is required you should follow HMRC’s complaints guidance.
Other ways to raise concerns with or about HMRC
If you have an issue with, or suggestion about, an operational or systemic matter which may be widespread and affect many taxpayers this should be raised in one or more of the following ways:
- Email the ICAEW Tax Faculty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Join the HMRC agent forum and post the issue on that forum. HMRC’s issues resolution team will take up the issue with the relevant part of HMRC’s business. The issues are also monitored by the professional body representatives on the Issues Overview Group.
What to do if you want to complain
Individual and business taxpayers can submit complaints online through their personal or business tax account. You can also complain either by telephone or in writing and these are the only options available to agents.
Letters of complaint should be clearly headed as a complaint and set out:
- what went wrong;
- when it happened;
- who at HMRC you, as the agent, dealt with;
- what effect their actions had on you or your client;
- how you would like HMRC to put things right;
- your and your client’s full name and address; and
- any relevant reference numbers (national insurance number, tax reference, VAT number, employer reference) so that HMRC can quickly locate the records.
The guidance does mention that you should try to speak to the relevant helpline before making a complaint.
The job of HMRC’s complaints handlers is to gather together all the relevant facts and papers and to review HMRC’s handling of the case. They will consider what has gone wrong, what needs to be done to put matters right and whether there is a case for financial redress.
The phone numbers and addresses for complaints are available on the HMRC contact page for complaints and in the ICAEW publication Useful HMRC contact information.
Complaints about HMRC staff attitude and behaviour
Complaints about HMRC staff attitude or behaviour may be made through the same channels as those outlined above.
HMRC recognises that you may not feel comfortable complaining to an officer whose actions have given rise to the complaint. In those circumstances you can ask for your complaint to be referred directly to one of its complaints handlers.
There is a specific address to write to where serious misconduct by HMRC staff involving criminal or near criminal behaviour is alleged:
HM Revenue and Customs,
PO Box 64353,
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) oversees how HMRC handles these complaints and appeals can be made to the IPCC.
Complaints about HMRC’s online services
There is a different process for complaints about HMRC’s online services. Issues with HMRC online services should initially be raised with the online services helpdesk on 0300 200 3600 (or 0300 200 3701 for VAT).
Complaints about online services should be raised by completing the appropriate online form.
A reference number must be obtained from the online services helpdesk and quoted when completing the online form.
Your costs – seeking redress
HMRC will make reasonable recompense to taxpayers who find themselves out of pocket due to something that HMRC has or has not done. HMRC’s current policy, subject to certain exceptions, is to reimburse taxpayers for any additional costs they may have incurred in putting right what has gone wrong only where there is proof that the costs have actually been incurred.
This means that you as the agent will not be able to recover your costs from HMRC directly. You will need to invoice the client who should then claim redress from HMRC. This is not an ideal situation, but subject to the exceptions listed below, at present it is the only way. You can then send the copy of the invoice to HMRC on behalf of your client.
Your invoice should give sufficient detail to justify the claim and you should be prepared to back this up if requested, with details of time spent, the hourly rate and any disbursements. If you are claiming redress on behalf of your client, you should also itemise the additional costs apart from your fees that they have incurred due to HMRC’s error or delay.
HMRC will consider paying the agent directly in cases of extreme hardship or where the same mistake has affected many of your clients. See the guidance at CRG5275 of HMRC’s Complaints and Remedy Manual for more detail on this.
HMRC can, in certain circumstances, make consolatory payments for any distress or anxiety caused to the taxpayer. These payments come from the public purse and will not be large but they are a useful way for HMRC to acknowledge and apologise for any distress. The guidance at CRG6025 of HMRC’s Complaints and Remedy Manual tells you more about this.
Still not happy?
If the initial response to the complaint is unsatisfactory a second-tier complaint should be made. You should ask for a different member of HMRC staff to take a fresh look at the complaint and to give a final response.
If your complaint has been fully investigated by HMRC but you are still not satisfied, the next step is to complain to the independent adjudicator. The final step is to take the complaint to the parliamentary ombudsman via the taxpayer’s MP.
You must have exhausted HMRC’s complaints process before you approach either the adjudicator or ombudsman. If you approach them without having done so, then they are likely to refuse to deal with your complaint.
Requests for a review by the adjudicator should be made within six months of the date of the final response from HMRC and the adjudicator will not consider cases that have already been reviewed by the parliamentary ombudsman. The parliamentary ombudsman may expect the complaint to have been considered by the adjudicator before taking it up.
HMRC’s Your Charter
The Your Charter sets out what taxpayers can expect from HMRC and what it expects from them in return.
It states: "HMRC will deal with your complaints or appeals as quickly as we can. You can also ask someone else to look into an issue on your behalf. If we can’t resolve matters between us, you can ask us to work with someone who’s not been involved in your dispute."
Further HMRC information
You can find out more about HMRC's complaints policy and how it handles them in its internal manuals:
We hope you find this guide useful but please let us know if you think anything else should be included by emailing the Tax Faculty.