Getting Help

Updated on 19 November 2019

Unfortunately, we are not able to provide an advice service about tax or tax credit issues.

There is, however, a range of information and guidance to help you in our tax guides section. If you need advice, we suggest that you contact a tax adviser, a welfare rights adviser or one of the tax charities listed later in this guide.

You can get in touch to tell us about your experiences of the tax system through our Contact Us page. We aim to respond as soon as we can. Our limited resources however, mean that we cannot always promise how quickly we will do this or whether we will be able to give a full response.

Please note that we are a charity and not part of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the Government department who deal with tax and tax credits. Although we do engage closely with HMRC and other Government departments, we are unable to access tax or tax credit records, make changes to information or pass on reported changes to HMRC.

Getting help with tax and tax credits
Using GOV.UK
Contacting HMRC by telephone
Getting help from HMRC online
Contacting HMRC by letter or form
People who need extra help from HMRC
Contacting your Local Authority for council tax help
Other non-governmental help and advice
Paid help
Help from family and friends

Getting help with tax and tax credits

There are different ways to get official guidance or information to help you understand your tax or tax credits.

Using government websites

You may find the information you are looking for on GOV.UK.

If you live in Scotland, you may also find the Scottish Government’s website helpful.

If you live in Northern Ireland, you may find NI direct helpful.

If you live in Wales, you may find the Welsh Government’s website helpful.

If you use any of these websites as a source of information, we recommend that you print out a copy of the relevant webpage and keep it somewhere safe, in case of a later dispute. This is particularly important if you are using GOV.UK as it is being constantly updated and amended as new material is added and existing material is re-written. We look at what to do if you have relied on some GOV.UK information that is later changed or removed in our news piece Has GOV.UK gone wrong for you?.

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Using GOV.UK

The information on GOV.UK has replaced nearly all tax information on the old HMRC website. The material on GOV.UK is intended to be simple and clear and therefore it may not provide the same detailed information that the HMRC site previously provided. LITRG produce a range of information and guidance on tax issues – you can find this in the tax guides section.

As GOV.UK is the website for all government services, there is a lot of information on it – hopefully the tax information you need will be clearly signposted from the HMRC part of GOV.UK but if not, there is a search facility which may help you find the information you are looking for. Try to be as specific as you can, for example if you know the tax refund form you need is called ‘P87’, search for the form number, rather than ‘tax refunds’. To narrow down the results, you can filter them by government organisation.

Always try to use GOV.UK to search for government information or services rather than use a search engine. This is because results from generic search engines will often bring up unofficial as well as official websites. This can include copycat websites that charge for services that the government offers for free.

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Contacting HMRC by telephone

HMRC's main helpline numbers are listed on GOV.UK. Most have a speech recognition system in place that interprets what you say in order to channel you to the appropriate help. Before they can deal with your enquiry, either the speech recognition system or an adviser will carry out a security check to confirm you are who you say you are.

Before phoning, we recommend that you:

  • Check with your service provider how much your call will cost – the majority of HMRC helplines are 0300 or 0345 numbers (you will pay the same amount as a landline call to a 01 or 02 number and the price is the same for calls from mobiles. 0300 and 0345 numbers are generally included in any discount schemes or inclusive call minutes that taxpayers may have with landline or mobile phone operators).
    Be aware of any HMRC phone numbers that do not start with 0300 or 0345 – these could belong to expensive call forwarding services as described in LITRG’s news article Misleading HMRC phone number – are you due a refund?.
  • Think about a few words that best describe your question or query. This will help ensure you get through the speech recognition system and to the right person as quickly as possible. Have an alternative ready just in case the system does not pick up your first attempt. For example, ‘SMP’ or ‘Maternity pay’ is sufficient. There is no need to say, ‘I am calling to query my entitlement to statutory maternity pay’.
  • Have your National Insurance number, postcode and other key information you may need such as your Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number if you are in Self Assessment, ready for the security check.
  • Have a pen and paper ready to make a note of the date and time of your call and important details such as what you need to do and by when and what HMRC have said they will do and when they will do it by. You may be offered a web address to jot down where you will find general guidance relating to your query. We know that people find this stage particularly annoying, particularly if they have already tried to look online, but there is no way to skip this stage.

During the call:

  • Try to call when there is not too much background noise. Calling from a busy train station or when the television is on for example, could distort the information heard by the speech recognition system.

  • Talk at a steady natural pace, do not rush, shout or speak too slowly. The system has been widely tested on all regional accents so there should not be any need to change the way you normally speak. However, if English is not your first language or you have trouble making yourself understood for another reason, you may find HMRC’s information for those with additional needs helpful.

  • To give dates, clearly say the date, month and year. For example, ‘twenty first July nineteen eighty nine’ or ‘fourteen zero nine nineteen sixty seven’. Similarly, to say amounts, speak clearly and normally. For example ‘twenty-five pounds and thirty pence’.

  • The system will recognise common abbreviations and acronyms. For 'PAYE' both 'p a y e' and 'Pay as you Earn' will be recognised. If your call concerns an actual form then you can name it – P2, P800, SA302 – as the system should recognise these also.

  • The system will offer confirmation of what you have said. It will 'ask again' if it is unsure or needs further clarification. If the system is still struggling to pick up what you are saying, it will revert to a push button menu for ease, for example press 1 for Self Assessment, 2 for refunds and so on. The system should always offer you a ‘something else’ option, if none of the preceding categories are appropriate.

  • Depending on the nature of your query, you may also be asked some security questions by the system to verify your identity. This should mean you do not have to do it again when you get through to the adviser.

  • Always ask HMRC when you can expect a reply and make a note of it.

After your call:

Keep notes of any phone calls along with important documents relating to your tax and tax credits. It is particularly important to make a note of the date and time of your call and if you speak to an adviser take their name as calls should be recorded and can be traced back where there is any later dispute. We look at how to get hold of a call recording in our news piece Calling HMRC – do you really need to use a paid recording service?.

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Getting help from HMRC online

HMRC offer a range of digital services for those who want to deal with their tax or tax credits online. These allow you to carry out transactions online such as file your Self Assessment tax return or, if you are an employer, manage your PAYE scheme.

You can get online support from HMRC to help you use these services, including via webchat or a virtual assistant.

You can find out more about this in our digital services guide.

With more and more government information and services moving online, it is important to understand how to protect your equipment and your personal details and information from theft, loss, attack or damage. See our separate page Protecting yourself online for more information.

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Contacting HMRC by letter or form

It is likely to take longer to resolve your enquiry or question if you write to HMRC rather than seek help on the phone or online. If however, you decide to do this, we recommend that you always:

  • Write to HMRC at the postal address shown on the most recent correspondence received from them. If you don’t have a specific address to write to, you should use the appropriate address from HMRC’s contact us pages.

  • Put a clear heading on your letter, for example complaint, tax repayment, calculation query, information request, PAYE coding query so that HMRC can identify the broad content of the letter and make sure it reaches the right area of the department.

  • Take a copy of any correspondence you send to HMRC and keep it safe for future reference.
  • Though it may cost more, consider using a ‘signed-for’ postal service to ensure safe delivery, especially if there is a deadline to meet or the contents are urgent. You can ask for a free proof of postage from the Post Office but this only proves that you have posted something – it does not prove that HMRC have received or signed for it.
  • Ask HMRC when you can expect a reply.
  • Make sure you know about any key dates or deadlines that you may still have to adhere to while your enquiry is ongoing.

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People who need extra help from HMRC

HMRC do not have any offices open to the public.

However HMRC offer a number of services for people with additional needs, including text and relay phone lines for people with impaired hearing or speech, alternative formats for the blind or partially sighted and interpreters for those who do not have English as their first language.

Full details of services are available on GOV.UK

In addition, the Royal Association for Deaf People (RAD) and HMRC are working together to make information and advice more accessible for deaf people in the UK. This includes an option to contact HMRC directly using RAD’s video interpreting service which gives access to registered, qualified interpreters via your PC or tablet.

HMRC also offer the ‘Extra Support service’ (previously known as the Needs Enhanced Support service or NES). A small team of specially trained telephone advisers can spend more time with vulnerable individuals and so offer a more personalised service. The team do not follow scripts rigidly. They also join things up with other parts of HMRC, so that you do not have to.

They can hold face-to-face appointments. This could include a face to face visit in your home or at a specified venue near to home – whatever suits you and your query best.

A typical example of the type of work the Extra Support service do can be seen by looking at the case of Joyce.

Joyce is a cleaner from Portugal. She has limited English and is unfamiliar with the UK tax system.

With the help of a friend, she registered as self-employed in 2014/15. Her 2014/15 tax return was submitted a few days late – her mother had been taken ill and she was back home in Portugal at the time of the deadline. Joyce submitted her 2015/16 tax return herself, on time – her earnings were below the personal allowance so it was quite simple. Joyce stopped working as a cleaner in 2016/17 but forgot to tell HMRC, so they continued to send her tax returns to complete, all of which are still outstanding. By the time Joyce reaches the Extra Support team, she thinks she owes HMRC nearly £4,000.

The Extra Support team help Joyce make a late filing penalty appeal for the 2014/15 tax year as she had a ‘reasonable excuse’ for not filing her tax return on time. They help her complete her 2016/17 tax return – the tax return for the year of cessation. They withdraw the requirement for her to file the subsequent tax returns as she was not actually self-employed for any of those years – and cancel the late filing penalties associated with those years. Now the amount of Joyce’s debt has been properly quantified, HMRC’s debt management team will discuss with her how it might be paid (more on this below).

The Extra Support service can offer help with:

  • Income tax and PAYE
  • Self Assessment
  • Tax credits
  • National Insurance
  • Tax debt (see question below)
  • Inheritance Tax
  • Child Benefit
  • VAT
  • Corporation Tax
  • Construction Industry Scheme (CIS)
  • Employers’ queries

You can access the Extra Support team (EST) via the ordinary HMRC helplines – you should tell the telephone adviser about any special circumstances that may be affecting you on either a temporary or permanent basis, in order that they can put you through to the EST team.

The helpline advisers decide, based on their contact with you, whether they need to hand you over to EST. If so, this should be a warm handover to the EST team so that you do not have to explain your circumstances again.

You should not be afraid to ask to speak to a supervisor or manager if you do not feel the adviser understands what you are saying about your circumstances and needs.

There is no direct dial number as HMRC fear the service could get completely overwhelmed.

Taxpayers can however, use an online form to arrange a face-to-face appointment if they find it difficult to use a telephone (not limited to those who are deaf, hard of hearing or with speech impairments).

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People who need extra help from HMRC because of tax debt

HMRC want to help if you have tax debt that you are struggling to pay. If you feel you need extra support from HMRC with tax debt issues, in the first instance, you should contact the debt management team, using the contact details you have on the letter sent to you or if you haven’t received a letter from debt management yet, the general number for payment problems found on GOV.UK.

Make sure you understand how the debt is made up and that your tax affairs are fully up to date so that HMRC are trying to collect the correct amount of tax. If you do not think the amount of debt is correct and/or you have lots of tax issues outstanding, you should make this very clear to the debt management team.

The debt management team have been given instructions on how to deal with taxpayers who need extra help because of health conditions or vulnerability. You need to explain your personal circumstances to the debt management team so that they can take appropriate action. This might be to try and help you themselves or to pass you to the Extra Support team.

We can see how this might work by continuing the example of Joyce:

Once the Extra Support team have helped bring Joyce’s affairs up to date, the true debt amount is much lower than £4,000 (it is essentially the 2016/17 late filing penalty). Joyce may be able to pay this outright, arrange a payment plan with HMRC’s debt management section, or in rare circumstances ‘remission’.

If necessary, Joyce can ask the debt management section to refer her case back to the Extra Support team so that the special advisers can help her with the ‘payment’ aspects of her case. If the Extra Support team arrange remission of the debt, then Joyce should be aware that this is not the end of the story and her case will be reviewed periodically for any change of circumstances (either by the Extra Support team or the debt management section). 

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Extra help to use HMRC’s online services

If you need extra help to deal with your tax and tax credits online, you can ask for it from any HMRC helpline. Help available includes:    

  • Help to get access to a computer and the internet. HMRC may refer you to an organisation or charity that can help you get online.
  • Inputting information on your behalf, or helping you to do this yourself.
  • Arranging a face-to-face visit if you need one. 
  • A ‘Get help with this page’ function and access to virtual assistant or online webchat service from within your Personal Tax Account.

You can also contact HMRC’s Online Services Helpdesk, who can provide help on the phone or via webchat, with:

  • problems logging into or registering for most HMRC systems
  • error messages you receive when using HMRC systems
  • using HMRC free software and tools
  • problems sending forms online.

You can find more information about getting help with HMRC's digital services in our digital services guide.

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Contacting your Local Authority for council tax help

If you are having trouble paying your council tax, think you may be entitled to extra support, reliefs or reductions, or just need some advice you should contact your own council. Each council operates an entirely separate budget and funding process and will also have its own process for collecting council tax.

You may be able to apply for a discount, perhaps because you live alone or because you want to make a lump sum payment. You can also ask to pay in instalments. Each case is reviewed individually. You should ask the council to confirm any reduction, relief or special agreements you get in writing, in case you need it for future reference.

If you think you are going to struggle to pay your council tax, we recommend that you get in touch with them quickly as the consequences of missing payments can be severe. Failure to act can mean that the council might start enforcement action and bailiffs may visit you.

If you find it difficult to use the telephone or get to the council offices, you can ask somebody to visit you at home.

If you have a council tax debt and are also struggling to pay other bills and organisations, we recommend that you seek further debt advice. There are many charities and not for profit organisations who can help you and their advice is free and confidential.

You can find more information on discounts, reliefs and exemptions in our section on council tax and rates.

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Other non-governmental help and advice

Contacting charities for help

A number of charities offer help on a wide range of tax and tax credit issues. Some also specialise in supporting people who need help to deal with debt related problems. They normally expect you to have attempted to sort the issue out with HMRC yourself before contacting them.

Charity Other contact details
TaxAid
help with tax debt, undeclared income and self-assessment returns for people with individual incomes under £20,000.

0345 120 3779
Please see TaxAid’s website for further details of their helpline and what to prepare before you call.

Tax Help for Older People –
help on all tax issues for older people with household incomes under £20,000.

01308 488 066

Citizens Advice - England and Wales
for help on a range of issues, including tax credits, benefits and general debt.
Further information on contacting Citizens Advice can be found on their Contact page
Citizens Advice - Scotland
for help on a range of issues, including debt.
Further information on contacting Citizens Advice Scotland can be found on their Contact page.
Citizens Advice - Northern Ireland –
for help on a range of issues, including debt.
Further information on contacting Citizens Advice Northern Ireland can be found on their Contact page.
Advice NI –
If you live in Northern Ireland you can also contact Advice NI for help with on a range of issues, including debt. 
Advice NI have a special web page for those needing help with tax and benefits.

 

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Paid help

If you can afford to pay for help with your taxes, we suggest you consult a professional Chartered Tax Adviser. You can find one by using the Find a CTA tool on the Chartered Institute of Taxation's website. Chartered Tax Advisers are subject to high professional and ethical standards.

Members of other professional bodies concerned with tax practice, such as the Association of Taxation Technicians have similarly high standards. They have a Find an ATT tool.

To use the tools, select ‘I’m looking for tax advice’, your rough location (optional), and the area of tax that you need help with in the drop-down box (for example, Expatriate Tax). If you are not sure, you should select ’All’.

Some ATTs/CTAs that you might find using the tool are employed by tax or accountancy firms and are not able to take on their own clients, but many of them are in practice on their own account.

The tool only lists phone numbers and email addresses, rather than website addresses but it is usually possible to spot those able to help you, as they will often have a business name that includes their own name for example: Joe Bloggs, Joe Bloggs Taxes Ltd, info [at] joebloggstax.co.uk.

When you make contact, it is a good idea to ask about the adviser’s charges and whether you will have to pay anything for an initial discussion about your requirements.

Some advisers will only provide online services, however if you prefer to talk to someone face to face, many will happily arrange to meet you, for example at your home or their place of work.

There are also networks of tax and accountancy franchises appearing in towns all over the UK and many of the individual offices will be run by ATTs/CTAs.

If you want to verify that an adviser you have found is a member of the Association of Taxation Technicians or Chartered Institute of Taxation – you can do this using the tool. Select ‘I’m looking for a member’ rather than ‘I’m looking for tax advice’.

LITRG can’t recommend any particular adviser or provider, but the information here should at least give you a starting point to your further research. What we will say however, is that you should be very wary of using tax refund companies.

You can find more information on how to find an accountant or tax adviser on the CCAB website.

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Help from family and friends

All taxpayers can appoint someone to deal with HMRC on their behalf. This may be a friend or family member, as well as a professional adviser or someone from a voluntary organisation.

Every decision that your representative makes should be authorised by you. You will still be legally responsible for your own tax.

Before HMRC will discuss your affairs with someone else, they need you to confirm that you are happy with this arrangement. Sometimes it is possible to do this informally over the phone. (The member of HMRC staff will want to speak to you directly to confirm who you are and that you are happy for them to discuss your affairs with someone else.) However, normally this will only be permitted on one occasion, after that you will probably have to appoint an intermediary or agent (see below).

Please note that if you just require a form, or have a general query, there should be no problem for HMRC to talk to your representative about this – they will not be asked for a proof of identity or any other security questions. 

Appointing an intermediary

You can arrange for someone else to communicate with HMRC on your behalf by appointing what is called an intermediary. An intermediary can speak to HMRC on your behalf and help you to complete forms.

To authorise an intermediary to help deal with your tax, you need to write to HMRC. The letter to authorise an intermediary must include:

  • your name and address
  • your tax reference number
  • the name and address of the person or organisation you want to authorise
  • your signature

An intermediary will not have access to your tax online and if you would like someone to help you with digital filing, HMRC allows a friend or relative to register online as your trusted helper

Having a longer term representative

If you wish to appoint a third party such as a professional accountant, a member of a voluntary organisation or a friend or relative to handle your tax affairs on a longer term basis as your agent, you should complete and sign HMRC’s form 64-8. An agent does not just mean accountant – it can be anyone who you wish to authorise to deal with HMRC for you on a permanent basis. 

Once this authority has been lodged and processed HMRC will send all correspondence to your authorised agent with the exception of tax demands or refunds which will continue to be sent to you. You should make sure that your representative discusses all correspondence received from HMRC with you – not just what they think might be important. 

The appointment of an intermediary, trusted helper or agent, as discussed above, will not be effective if you lose mental capacity. At that time, authority would normally rest with an attorney appointed by you under a Power of Attorney. If you had not appointed an attorney then, as described below, the court would have to appoint someone to deal with your affairs.

Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney is a legal document that lets you appoint someone to help you make decisions or to make decisions on your behalf. This gives you more control over who will make decisions for you if, for example, you have an accident or an illness and can’t make decisions at the time they need to be made (you lack mental capacity).

The appointment of an intermediary, trusted helper or agent, as discussed above, will not be effective if you lose mental capacity. At that time, authority would rest with an attorney appointed by you under a Lasting Power of Attorney (or an Enduring Power of Attorney, if made before 1 October 2007).

There are two forms of Lasting Power in England and Wales. There is a Lasting Power for Health and Care decisions and a Lasting Power for Property and Financial Affairs. You can choose to make one type or both. The Property and Financial Affairs Lasting Power will cover decisions about your tax affairs. In Scotland you can make a Continuing Power of Attorney for decisions about property and financial affairs and a Welfare Power of Attorney for decisions about your health and welfare matters.

You can only make a Lasting Power of Attorney when you have mental capacity (and you have to be over 18) so it is sensible to put arrangements in place when you are able to do so in case you suffer from an accident or an illness that might later prevent you from making your own decisions.

If you lose capacity and have not made a Lasting Power of Attorney then it may be necessary for a third party to make an application to court to be appointed as your Deputy to deal with your affairs. A Deputy can only act under a court order of the Court of Protection. A Deputy for your property and financial affairs will not generally be required if you have previously made a Lasting Power of Attorney for property and financial affairs provided the Power has been properly registered and the attorney is able to act.

For more information on powers of attorney, including how to make one, see GOV.UK

In terms of how to lodge a Power of Attorney with HMRC, our understanding is that HMRC will require an original, solicitor-certified copy or ‘Office of the Public Guardian’ official office copy as evidence of a Power of Attorney.  You should check with HMRC where to send it.

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