New rules for tax appeals must cater for the unrepresented

Published on 17 November 2008

As the tax appeals system is changing from April 2009, new rules and procedures are being devised. LITRG feel there is some way to go in terms of arriving at a structure which adequately caters for unrepresented, low-income appellants.

From April 2009, the tax appeals landscape will look quite different, as a new two-tier Tribunal system will replace the existing arrangement. Within that structure will be chambers which will hear different categories of appeals; tax cases will be heard in the Tax Chamber.

Initially, tax credits appeals will continue to be heard alongside other social security appeals in the Social Entitlement Chamber, although the Government have stated an intention to transfer tax credits to the Tax Chamber at an as yet undecided future date.

Before launching the new Tribunals system, the Ministry of Justice has been consulting on various aspects of its structure, the latest of which is the draft Rules within which the new Tribunals will operate.

We feel the Tax Chamber Rules comprising:

- as drafted are insufficiently geared to the needs of low-income unrepresented appellants. Our response aims to identify those needs as follows.

  • Good guidance, tailored to the needs of the unrepresented appellant, is essential.
  • There should be a pro bono service for low-income, unrepresented appellants to obtain assistance with presenting their case. We have made this point in previous submissions.
  • The case management rules should allow for maximum assistance to unrepresented appellants unfamiliar with the procedures.
  • In order to gain the confidence of unrepresented appellants, independence from HMRC – both actual and perceived – is vital. In particular, appellants should have unfettered access to the Tribunal and its case management service at all times (except when they have opted for HMRC internal review and that review is in progress).
  • The Tribunal should be flexible in the procedural requirements it places on unrepresented appellants and respond sympathetically if there is a reasonable excuse for failing to comply with procedure.

Tax credits appeals

If the current proposal to transfer tax credits appeals to the Tax Chamber is to work, the Tax Chamber Rules must give tax credit appellants the same rights as they have now. Also, the rights of a low-income tax appellant should be correspondingly raised to the same level. This would involve, for example, making provision in the Tax Chamber Rules for the out-of-pocket expenses of low-income appellants to be reimbursed. It is vital that tax credits claimants do not lose out by reason of the transfer, if it is to go ahead.

To read the full response please see the link below.

(17-11-2008)

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

To open the file click below:
Tribunal Procedure Committee consultations - LITRG response