Fair and accessible tax appeals for the unrepresented

Published on 21 September 2006

In a new Report, the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) considers how to reform the system of tax appeals to the best advantage of unrepresented taxpayers with limited means to pursue an appeal. This group is likely to form the majority of appellants before the tax tribunals.

Unrepresented appellants face a number of barriers. These include the complexity of the tax system and of the appeals process; lack of clear guidance on how to prepare and present an appeal; absence of case management facilities; the risk of an onward appeal by the revenue authority and exposure to an adverse costs order; the fact that many perceive the tax appeal tribunals to be part of Government.

The Report draws on LITRG’s contributions to the consultation led by the Department for Constitutional Affairs, a survey of the views of chartered tax advisers, and detailed discussions with other experts in the field. We make 23 recommendations designed to answer the practical needs of unrepresented appellants:

  • Simple and direct access. Appeals should be lodged directly with the Tribunals Service; the process must be seen to be independent – HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) should not interpose itself as an intermediary between appellant and tribunal. The first tier tribunal should retain its existing local base.
  • Guidance and case management. There should be good, local case management facilities from the moment the appeal is lodged; appellants should be sent information about the appellate body and its contact details so they do not have to rely on HMRC to progress the appeal. The process should be subject to the overall supervision of a tribunal member in that the papers in each case would cross their desk at least once.
  • Finality. Unrepresented appellants should be able to rely on the decision of the first tier being final in most cases, but where there is an onward appeal must be protected against an adverse costs order in all but exceptional cases.
  • Support for advice and representation. Consideration should be given to incorporating in the early preparatory stages of an appeal an opportunity for an unrepresented appellant to receive independent professional advice on the merits of their appeal. Good advice at an early stage saves costs later on.
  • Review of administrative decisions. Tribunals should be able to review administrative decisions made by government departments where there is no statutory right of appeal, and we welcome proposals in draft legislation to bring that about. Meanwhile, an independent body should be empowered to review cases where HMRC fails to follow its own published guidelines, or exercises its discretion unfairly or incorrectly.

LITRG have been grateful for the support of the Nuffield Foundation in preparing this Report and we hope that the needs of the unrepresented appellant will now be given some priority in the new design for tribunals.

(21-09-2006)

Contact: Robin Williamson (Tel: 0844 579 6700 Fax 0844 579 6701)