HMRC’s actions ‘grossly unfair’

Posted: 6th August 2015

HMRCOne of the most important functions of courts and tribunals is to protect ‘the small man’ against the leviathan of the state. In one striking case, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) was heavily criticised for its grossly unfair treatment of a dyslexic painter and decorator with the mental age of a 12-year-old.

HMRC had estimated the man’s earnings over a six-year period and hit him with tax demands totalling almost £18,000. He denied that his part-time earnings had ever reached the tax threshold. He suffered from serious learning disabilities and his life had been struck by various misfortunes, including the end of his marriage, the subsequent death of his wife and a fire at his home.

He had managed to keep on top of his paperwork until his wife left him as the sole carer for their primary-school-age daughter. The child had written a letter to his local tax office on his behalf but it had been returned unopened. He had visited the office in person three times, but had been given only limited assistance.

In allowing his appeal, and directing cancellation of the tax demands, the First-tier Tribunal found that he was a credible witness who was entirely lacking in guile. His treatment by HMRC had been unconscionable, in the sense of grossly unfair, outrageous and completely unreasonable. His literacy problems should have been obvious to HMRC staff and no consideration had been given, or concessions made, to his particular vulnerability.