It is likely that you are reading this section because something is not happening as you hoped or expected, or that you were not treated well when you contacted HMRC. We know that most people don't like to complain but if you are not happy with the way that HMRC are dealing with you then you should understand what you can do about it.
There are many things that may form the basis for a complaint. Do you think you:
- have had to wait too long?
- have been treated unfairly or impolitely?
- have been discriminated against - that is, you have not received due consideration for any particular needs you might have because of, for example: a disability? your age? not having English as your first language?
- are not getting the right amounts of money?
- are not paying the right amounts of tax or national insurance?
- are not getting the right benefits, credits or allowances?
- have been given incorrect advice or information?
- received bad service in some other way?
Being denied the right amounts of money or the right benefits may be a case for making an appeal which we cover in Appeals. But sometimes not receiving what you are entitled to is because of delay or other administrative problems where a complaint is the right remedy.
In this section we look at the ways to make a complaint. We also take matters further by explaining what to do if your complaint is not settled immediately to your satisfaction and what compensation you may seek if things have been badly handled..
HMRC give reasonably comprehensive guidance on the process and a series of useful links. It is also advisable for someone starting a complaint to review the undertakings given by HMRC in Your Charter to see if any have been broken and can be referred to in the complaint. You should use those two documents in conjunction with the commentary below.
The initial complaint
- Write or telephone or fax the HMRC office that is involved with the problem. Tell them that you are unhappy and wish to complain. (If writing, put "Complaint" at the top of the letter and if part or all of your complaint is due to discrimination, make that clear at the outset. Also put "Complaint" on the envelope. This should ensure that your letter is passed directly to HMRC's Complaints section.) Most problems can be dealt with in this way. It is generally not possible to complain to HMRC by email.
- To be able to help quickly, your tax office will need to know your full name, your national insurance number, your address and the last reference number that they used when contacting you. A telephone number where and when they might contact you would also be helpful.
- Set out in the complaint what has gone wrong and what you want to see done to put it right. If their mistake is causing you hardship and/or distress then say so
- They should respond very quickly but sometimes their service is not what it should be. If you do not hear from HMRC within two weeks, then chase them. Delays on their part may give you a claim for compensation later.
- If it is not possible to give a full reply within a reasonable time HMRC should provide an interim response with information on the action being taken and when a full response may be expected.
- Their full reply should include details of who may be contacted if you feel the complaint is not dealt with in a proper manner.
- If you prefer not to deal with the same people in the office you have been dealing with before, or have tried that and you are still unhappy, then contact, in writing or by telephone, the Customer Service Manager in the office concerned and tell them of your problem.
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Paying tax whilst your complaint is being looked at
- Whilst HMRC are looking into your complaint we would suggest you pay the correct amount of tax you consider is due.
- If this then proves to be less than the amount you will actually need to pay, you may be charged interest on the excess and similarly if they find that you are due a repayment they will pay you interest on the overpaid tax from a set date.
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Taking it further
- If you are unhappy with the response to your initial complaint, you can escalate your problem by once again addressing your letter as a complaint, but asking for the letter to be passed to a senior officer and for them to review the complaint again.
- You should expect a very prompt response at this point. However do not try and bypass the initial complaint step above as a more senior person is unlikely to get involved until you have exhausted the first stages as set out in the initial complaint.
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- If you are still unhappy after receiving a response from a senior HMRC officer then you can ask the Adjudicator to look into your complaint. The Adjudicator is independent of HMRC and tries to find solutions by mediation or by making formal recommendations. But the Adjudicator is bound by the same policies and processes as HMRC and cannot look through them to decide whether they are fair or not. All the Adjudicator can do is ensure that HMRC have followed their own policies and processes correctly.
- The Adjudicator publishes a leaflet that we suggest you read called: AO1 The Adjudicator's Office for complaints about HM Revenue & Customs and the Valuation Office Agency.
- You may contact the Parliamentary Ombudsman, who investigates cases where bad administration by any Government department has led to an injustice that has not been remedied. But the Ombudsman does not normally look at cases until they have been through the Adjudicator.
- You cannot contact the Ombudsman directly in the first instance but your MP will do this for you. The Ombudsman's office will then apply its own selection process to decided with cases to investigate. The Ombudsman is entirely independent and can also consider complaints about the Adjudicators Office, but will not normally select a case for investigation if the Adjudicator appears to have taken account of everything relevant. You can find the address of your MP using this link.
- If you are not resident in the UK and therefore do not have a current MP, it is still possible to complain as one UK MP is nominated to deal with complaints from overseas. The Ombudsman’s office will be able to advise you of the MP holding this role for the time being.
- You can contact either the Adjudicator or the Ombudsman as follows:
The Adjudicator's Office
286 Euston Road
London NW1 3US
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
London SW1P 4QP
Adjudicator 0300 057 1111 or 020 7667 1832 (Text Relay facilities are available)
Ombudsman (Complaints helpline) 0345 015 4033
Adjudicator 0300 057 1212 or 020 7667 1830
Ombudsman 0300 061 4000
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However, if you are content with HMRC’s reaction to your complaint it will probably be because HMRC have:
- Said sorry and put things right
- Explained what went wrong
- Considered refunding your reasonable costs directly caused by their mistakes or unreasonable delays, and where appropriate a consolatory payment to recognise anxiety and distress caused by their action or inaction, or poor complaints handling.
- Do not be shy in asking for reimbursement of your expenses (e.g. postage and phone calls or professional fees) and for compensation if it is not offered to you. It is very distressing when HMRC make a mistake, especially when it is compounded by delay in responding to you. For example, if you are a tax credits claimant and the payment was delayed or too low and through this you picked up bank charges then ask for these to be reimbursed.
- If HMRC have been at fault in not using information they had in their possession and are therefore late in asking you for money that is owed, they will not always seek the full amount that is due.
- For example, if you told them that you were now receiving a state pension but they did not take any action to collect the tax due for two years.
- This will only apply if you could reasonably have believed that you did not owe HMRC any more money. If you think this might apply to you then contact your tax office. If you have any doubts, ask them for a copy of Extra Statutory Concession A19 which covers the position in more detail or you can find this in Extra Statutory Concessions.
- If you employ a tax adviser you should take advice on your courses of action. The costs of a tax adviser may be reimbursed in appropriate circumstances. You might also be able to get some help from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
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- Whilst your complaint is being sorted out you may be able to make a claim for costs you have incurred in trying to get things sorted out.
- You can do this at any time whilst HMRC are looking at your complaint or if you can tell them about your costs when you first make your complaint they may be able to process the claim quicker.
- The person who is dealing with your complaint should be able to help you decide if you can make a claim.
- Bear in mind that you may be asked for receipts or invoices to support your claim.
- You cannot be compensated for your own time spent in sorting things out unless you can show that you have lost earnings as a direct result. You may however be able to reclaim the costs of a tax adviser.
- You can see an example of how the system works in Jo 1.
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- Mistakes and delays may cause you a great deal of worry or distress. HMRC say they realise how upsetting this can be.
- If this has happened to you, please let them know. They may be able to pay you an amount to recognise your particular circumstances and so apologise for the way they have treated you. These payments are not intended to put a value on the distress you have suffered, but that does not mean that you should hold back from asking for substantial compensation where merited – for example if HMRC's actions have made you unwell. Examples of the amounts HMRC should be prepared to pay can be found in the histories set out in annual reports by the Adjudicator.
- A difference of opinion between you, even when later HMRC are shown to have been wrong, is not the reason for a payment unless they took an unreasonable view of the law or had failed you in some other way.
- In addition if HMRC handle your complaint badly, they may pay you a further sum. For example, if you sent them a reminder and there was a further delay in their response.
- All such payments are tax-free and you need not show them on your tax return.
- You can see an example of how the system works in Jo 2.
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Jo 1 - claim for costs in connection with complaint
The Revenue made a mistake with Jo's tax. The matter took a long time to resolve and in the end Jo travelled over 25 miles to her tax office to try to get the matter settled and to lodge a complaint regarding the excessive delay. The delay had meant that Jo had had to pay too much tax and she incurred bank overdraft charges as a result of overpaying her tax.
Jo had kept details of all the letters she sent and receipts from the local post office for the faxes sent together with a receipt for her train and bus tickets to take her to and from the tax office. She lodged a claim with the Revenue for the amounts she paid and sent copies of all the receipts together with the relevant telephone bills and bank statements to support this.
She received a cheque from the Revenue for the amounts claimed. She could however have made an interim claim before the complaint was settled.
Jo 2 - claim for compensation for delay and distress
Jo was very unhappy at the way she had been forced to travel 25 miles before her problem could be resolved. She decided that she had a case for compensation for both worry and distress and additionally for further amounts because of the long wait before the tax was repaid.
She wrote to the Revenue at the office where the complaint had been lodged claiming both types of compensation. In the circumstances it was decided that Jo's argument was valid and a compensation cheque was issued to her.
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