Helping the bereaved

Published on 9 March 2005

A death is one of those occasions where the bereaved need the greatest help possible from everyone around them and government departments can play their part. The Inland Revenue have just issued a new leaflet called 'Contacting the Inland Revenue when someone has died' (IR45). Regrettably, an opportunity has been lost to provide low income customers with a service that meets their needs.

LITRG has pressed for some years for the Revenue to issue guidance for the recently bereaved, who might not be able to afford significant legal charges or who wished to manage without professional advisers.

To their credit the Revenue have taken that thought on board and the new leaflet starts well by acknowledging that it will be a difficult time for the reader.

But from that point on, the leaflet fails to meet many of the needs of its target audience.

Where there is a professional involved, be it a solicitor, accountant or tax adviser then most things covered by the leaflet will be dealt with by that professional. Where no professional is involved, clear and straightforward guidance is needed, including tips on how to claim money back.

The new leaflet seems to concentrate on Revenue requirements, rather than provide simple help and ensure full entitlements are received. The bereaved are also directed up a few blind alleys at a time of some stress.

More help needed

Examples of matters not covered, or not well explained, include:

  • Obtaining a tax repayment because the deceased was employed, receiving an occupational pension or had taxed investment income
  • Dealing with tax issues for joint bank accounts
  • How an entitlement to child tax credit, working tax credit or pension credit may qualify the surviving partner for a social fund funeral payment
  • The issues surrounding national insurance owing at the date of death
  • How the unused married couple's allowance on death can be transferred to the surviving spouse
  • How a widow or widower can be entitled to additional State pension
  • The death of a child
  • The impact on tax credits flowing from the death of one of a couple
  • Death of a sole trader

Where do you get help?

The Revenue unhelpfully divide people who are dealing with small estates into two categories, those where the estate is worth under £5,000 and those above. So the very poorest are asked to pick 'any Inland Revenue office for advice'. As there are several hundred to choose from, most of which have no particular expertise in bereavement, it is not good advice.

The slightly, or much, richer get directed to the Probate and Inheritance Tax Helpline on 0845 30 20 900 who will give you specialist help (once you have found your way past the 'pick a form' push button choices).

The under £5,000 estate should ignore the Revenue's advice and ring the Helpline. They will help you to sort out probate, if probate is necessary at all.

But even this Helpline has its problems in that it only deals with probate and inheritance tax. So when you need to deal with income tax matters you have to ring a tax office again and woe betide you if you want to know about tax credits, national insurance, child benefit or capital gains, because you will be given other numbers to ring or literature to read.

If the will you are dealing with as executor has created a trust, the leaflet suggests that you look in the phone book under Inland Revenue and ring whichever office you find there for advice. This seems strange advice when the tax office you have chosen is likely to direct you back to the Helpline above.

When directing people for bereavement benefits or state pension advice the Revenue do not mention The Pensions Service (and their central helpline on 0845 60 60 265), instead you are pointed to the local DWP or Jobcentre Plus.

There are also no references to voluntary sector agencies, such as Citizens Advice or Age Concern.

The new leaflet directs you to various locations for obtaining Revenue leaflets, not only do most of those locations not hold the appropriate Revenue leaflets, but they do not hold the bereavement leaflets of the related government departments.

The way forward?

Certain things are clear from this short review:

  • The Revenue are not joined up with their colleagues in the DWP to give the best and simplest service on bereavement
  • There is too much jargon used (for example, we have three Government departments using different words to explain what is a personal representative)
  • Insufficient thought has been given to the needs of those trying to deal with a small intestacy
  • The Revenue is not joined up internally and the customer is bounced around different parts of the empire
  • The new leaflet is inadequate and, in parts, misleading

LITRG would like to see:

  • A single Bereavement Helpline capable of dealing with initial guidance on probate and the issues dealt with by all parts of the Revenue and the DWP
  • A combination of existing leaflets to provide a coherent guide (for example merging, PA2 from the Probate Service with D49 from the DWP and IR45 from the Revenue). This new leaflet to be given to all those people registering a death
  • All relevant government departments working with the voluntary sector to produce an excellent and comprehensive website on DirectGov (www.direct.gov.uk)
  • A simplification and co-ordination of Revenue forms required to be completed at the time of bereavement

(09-03-2005)

Contact Name: John Andrews (Tel: 0844 579 6700, Fax: 0844 579 6701)