Tax appeals

Updated on 28 June 2022

Tax basics

This page explains the basics of the appeal process. We then aim to help you work through all the stages of resolving a tax dispute with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), including making an appeal to an independent tax tribunal.

What does this page cover?

You may find this page helpful when you disagree with a decision HMRC have made.

We cover direct tax only, by which we mean things like income tax and National Insurance contributions (NIC). The definition of direct tax also includes other things that you might not expect, like student loan repayments.

If you disagree with an HMRC decision about indirect tax, for example VAT, the rules are very similar. You can find basic information on what to do if you disagree with a tax decision on GOV.UK.

Another option that may be available to you when you disagree with a decision HMRC have made is Alternative Dispute Resolution. This can be used alongside the appeal process.

This page does not cover the following:

  • HMRC are asking you for information you know you ought to give them or HMRC have discovered something you had not told them. You will have to sort that out with HMRC. Please go to our information on enquiries.
  • If your dispute is about tax credits, go to the tax credits and benefits section.
  • HMRC are demanding money that you owe, but you cannot afford to pay.

Appealing to HMRC and the Tribunal

If you disagree with an HMRC decision and you have a right of appeal, you can appeal in writing to HMRC. You must normally make an appeal within 30 days of HMRC’s notice of their decision.

HMRC will consider your appeal. They will either agree with you and amend their decision, or confirm their original decision. They will confirm their position in writing. You will have 30 days from the date of that letter to appeal again, if you still do not agree with HMRC.

If you cannot agree your position with HMRC, HMRC may offer you a review. You can request a review at any time. A review is an internal process, carried out by another HMRC officer who was not previously involved in your case.

If you still cannot agree your position with HMRC after a review, or do not want a review, you can appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (Tax Chamber). The Tribunal will make a decision about your case. If you disagree with the Tribunal’s decision, you may be able to make a further appeal. If you take your case further, you may have to pay HMRC’s costs as well as your own, so you should think carefully before doing so.

Has the appeal process changed due to the coronavirus?

Elsewhere on this page, we refer to appeal time limits. If you were affected by coronavirus, for HMRC decisions and penalties dated up to and including 30 September 2021, HMRC allowed an extra three months to appeal.

If you are appealing to the Tribunal, there have also been some changes – for example, aiming to deal with correspondence by electronic means such as using online services or email. If there is to be a hearing for your case, this might be dealt with by telephone or online video conferencing, rather than face to face. Further information can be found in the Tribunal Service’s help for users guide.

Can I make an appeal?

You can make an appeal only if you have a formal right to appeal against an HMRC decision. Rights of appeal are set out in law, and not every HMRC decision can be appealed against. You may have a right of appeal where HMRC, for example:

  • are looking into your tax affairs and demanding excessive amounts of information or taking too long to bring their enquiries to an end;
  • have altered your Self Assessment after an enquiry because they think you got it wrong;
  • have made an assessment of tax on you or are disallowing a claim to a relief;
  • have refused you a CIS sub-contractor's certificate;
  • have issued a coding notice which you think is wrong;
  • are demanding a penalty or surcharge which you think is unfair or incorrect.

When HMRC write to you with a decision, they should also tell you whether you have a right of appeal. If you do not know whether you have a right of appeal, ask HMRC in writing (or, if you contact them to ask this by telephone, ask them to confirm their answer in writing).

Note that you cannot make an appeal (whether to HMRC or to the Tribunal) about the behaviour of HMRC staff. If you are unhappy about the way in which HMRC have dealt with you, you will need to make a complaint to HMRC as set out below.

If you do not have a formal right of appeal (for example, if HMRC refuse to apply one of their extra-statutory concessions) but disagree with an HMRC decision or the way they have handled your case, there are other options:

  • Complaint
    See our guidance on how to make a complaint to HMRC, and then to an independent body if HMRC do not satisfactorily resolve the matter.
     
  • Judicial review
    The courts can review the lawfulness of decisions or actions by a public body through the judicial review process. This can be an expensive procedure and expert legal representation is needed. There are strict time limits for commencing judicial review procedures. There is a basic guide to the judicial review procedure on the Public Law Project website.

How long do I have to make an appeal to HMRC?

You usually have 30 days to make an appeal to HMRC. This is 30 days from the date printed on HMRC’s decision notice, and not 30 days from the date you receive it.

HMRC’s decision notice may be in the form of a letter, but it could also be an assessment, penalty notice or other document.

Your appeal must reach HMRC within the 30 day time limit, so you need to post your appeal letter or form to HMRC in good time.

We recommend getting proof of postage (you can ask for this from the Post Office) and consider using a signed for or timed delivery service (such as next-day delivery) if you are close to the time limit.

What if I miss the 30-day time limit for appealing?

HMRC can agree to consider a late appeal and will generally do so if you have a good reason for not meeting the deadline, and are not significantly late.

Let’s say for example that HMRC send you a penalty notice dated 1 March, but you do not receive it until 16 March. Your appeal should normally reach HMRC by 31 March (30 days from the date on the penalty notice). You might, however, argue that you did not have much time to sort out your appeal and get it back to HMRC by that date as a result of the delay in receiving the penalty notice.

If HMRC do not agree to consider a late appeal, you can apply to the Tribunal for permission to make a late appeal to HMRC.

How do I make an appeal to HMRC?

If you wish to appeal a decision, you must send a notice of appeal to HMRC.

As described above, you must usually do this so that it reaches HMRC within 30 days of the date shown on their decision notice.

Your appeal must be in writing. You can either use an appeal form, or you can write your own letter of appeal. An appeal form may have been sent to you with the HMRC decision notice.

Send your appeal to the HMRC address shown on the appeal form or the decision notice you have received.

You must provide the following information with your appeal:

  • your name and/or the name of your business;
  • your tax reference number, which is shown on the HMRC decision notice;
  • what decision or assessment you are appealing against;
  • why you disagree with HMRC's decision (your ‘grounds for appeal’);
  • what you think the outcome of the case should be – for example, if an amount of tax is disputed, say what you think the correct figures should be and how you have worked them out.

If you are not sure why you disagree or cannot work out the correct figures that should not stop you putting in an appeal. Just try to explain as best you can – for example, if you think you have a reasonable excuse for failing to get your tax return submitted on time, give as much detail as you can about what happened, when and why.

What happens after I appeal to HMRC?

HMRC will consider your appeal and let you know if they agree with you. Sometimes they will want to discuss your case with you – for example, they might want you to provide more information to back up your appeal.

HMRC may agree with your appeal and amend their decision.

If HMRC do not agree with your appeal, they will normally offer to review their decision.

If you do not request a review, or one is not offered, you can make an appeal to the Tribunal within 30 days of the date of the HMRC decision on your appeal.

You cannot request a review from HMRC and also make a Tribunal appeal at the same time; you will need to wait for the review to conclude or be out of time, before you can appeal to the Tribunal.

How does HMRC's internal review process work?

If HMRC have offered you a review of their decision, you can then decide whether you want to accept their offer, or whether you would prefer to take your appeal straight to the Tribunal. You have 30 days from the date of HMRC’s offer of a review to accept it or appeal to the Tribunal.

If HMRC do not offer you a review, you can ask for one.

What happens with a review?

The HMRC reviewer will have another look at the case and decide whether or not they agree with the original decision. They will write and tell you the outcome. This should be within 45 days unless HMRC agree an extension with you. Their usual practice is to extend it for a further 45 days, so the review is completed within 90 days.

The outcome might be one of three things:

  • that the reviewer agrees with you and cancels HMRC's original decision;
  • that they agree with you in part and vary HMRC's decision;
  • or that they agree with HMRC's original decision and turn down your appeal.

As mentioned above, if the reviewer has not made a decision within 45 days, they should tell you. They might ask for more time. You do not have to agree, but it might be in your interests to do so if ultimately your case is resolved quicker. If you do not agree to allow the reviewer more time, they must give you a notice saying that the review is concluded without a decision being reached and you can then appeal to the Tribunal if you wish.

Who carries out the review?

HMRC's internal reviews are carried out centrally from their Solicitors Office and Legal Services team, by someone within HMRC who is independent of the original HMRC decision-maker. That means the reviewer is not within the management chain of the original decision maker.

What should I send to HMRC when asking for a review?

If you ask HMRC for a review, you should make sure that you include in your request for a review as much information as you can. You should say why you think the original decision is wrong, and if there is any further information that the original HMRC decision-maker might not be aware of, this is your opportunity to provide it.

For example, if you are claiming that you have a reasonable excuse for filing your tax return late, but HMRC do not already have all of the facts about what happened, explain the situation again. Try to give as much information as you can and, if you have any supporting evidence, send copies of it with your review request (do not send original documents).

Let’s say you spilled a cup of coffee over your laptop computer on 30 January when you were going to file your tax return, so you could not complete it. You took the laptop for repair the next day, got it fixed within a week and then filed your tax return as soon as possible when it was back up and running (in other words, you put matters right as soon as you could).

HMRC in their original decision have said they do not think you had a reasonable excuse as they thought you should have asked a friend or family member if you could borrow their computer; or used a public computer such as at a local library.

In your request for a review, you should send in any further evidence you have. You could send a copy of the repair bill for the laptop as evidence of the problem. Then you could explain that your library does not provide the facilities they suggest and in any event it was closed on both 30 and 31 January as it now only opens on certain days. Furthermore, you think it is not reasonable for HMRC to suggest you rely on friends or family to deal with your private tax affairs. Perhaps also the information you needed to complete your tax return was saved on the computer that was damaged and you needed it to be repaired before you could access it.

Giving such further information could make all the difference to the outcome of the review.

If I do not want a review, can I appeal to the Tribunal?

Internal reviews are optional. If you prefer, you can appeal straight to the Tribunal, but normally in direct tax matters you must also notify HMRC before, or at the same time, as doing so.

However, an internal review is worth considering as an alternative way of resolving your dispute, as it could save time and costs of appealing your case to the Tribunal.

If I opt for a review then change my mind, can I appeal to the Tribunal?

If you have opted for a review, you cannot take your case to the Tribunal until the review is concluded.

What if I disagree with the reviewer's decision?

Once the review is concluded, if you do not agree with the outcome, you have a further 30 days, from the date of the review conclusion letter or the expiry of the review period, to appeal to the Tribunal.

What is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)?

HMRC have an Alternative Dispute Resolution service that can work alongside the appeal and review processes. See our Alternative Dispute Resolution page for more information.

How does the Tribunal system work?

Tax appeals are dealt with by the Tax Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal.

The Tribunal system is completely independent of HMRC. HMRC are one party to an appeal and you are the other.

Note that if you are a Scottish taxpayer or Welsh taxpayer, HMRC (rather than Revenue Scotland or the Welsh Revenue Authority) continue to administer most taxes in both Scotland and Wales. You therefore usually still need to appeal to the UK-wide Tribunal service.

If you are appealing a decision of Revenue Scotland in relation to the Scottish Land and Buildings Transaction Tax, you will need to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland Tax Chamber. Note, however, that if you are appealing a Welsh Revenue Authority decision relating to Land Transaction Tax in Wales, appeals are still made to the UK tribunal.

Do I have to pay HMRC's costs if I lose?

In most cases in the First-tier Tribunal, the parties pay their own costs (known as expenses in Scotland) only, regardless of whether they win or lose. The losing party cannot usually be made to pay the costs of the other party. That means that you will have to fund your own appeal, but you will not normally risk having to pay HMRC's costs.

However, the First-tier Tribunal may award costs where one party to the case has acted unreasonably in bringing, defending, or conducting the proceedings. This means if the Tribunal thinks you acted unreasonably, they can order you to pay HMRC's costs in defending the case.

If HMRC act unreasonably, the Tribunal can make HMRC pay your costs.

The First-tier Tribunal can also order a party to pay wasted costs incurred because their representative has acted improperly or unreasonably, or been negligent.

Costs in ‘complex’ cases

In a few, usually high-value, tax disputes the appeal will be categorised as ‘complex’. These disputes are unlikely to involve those on lower incomes.

Complex tax appeals are subject to a ‘loser-pays’ costs regime, where the losing party pays their own costs and those of the successful party. If your case is categorised as complex, you can opt out of that costs regime.

You will be notified by the Tribunal if your case has been categorised as complex. If the Tribunal tells you this, you must notify the Tribunal within 28 days of receiving that notification if you want to opt out of the costs regime.

What is the Upper Tribunal costs regime?

If you or HMRC appeal against the First-tier Tribunal's decision, the appeal will be heard by the Upper Tribunal.

In the Upper Tribunal, there is a costs regime where the losing party generally pays the costs of the winning party as well as its own.

However, in limited circumstances you can, if you want to do so and apply to the Tribunal in writing, ask for an exception to this regime. If the Tribunal agrees, provided neither party has acted unreasonably they will each pay only their own costs, and neither party will have to pay the costs of the other whatever the result.

How do I appeal to the Tribunal?

You must submit your appeal within the time limit. This is usually 30 days from the date of the HMRC decision (or review decision) which you want to appeal. This is the date shown on HMRC’s decision notice itself, not the date you receive it.

To make your appeal, you will need to fill in a form. You can do this:

  • online via GOV.UK; or
  • you can fill in a paper form. If making your appeal on paper, the type of form depends on whether you are applying to close an HMRC enquiry, or appeal another matter. See GOV.UK for a full list of tax appeal forms and guidance notes.

You will need to include a copy of the HMRC decision (or review decision) which you are appealing. If you appeal online, you will need to upload a scan or photo of the decision.

If you file your appeal online, you should get an electronic acknowledgement that the appeal form has been received with a reference number. If you do not get an acknowledgement, contact the Tax Tribunal for assistance.

For both online and paper forms, the Tribunal will then write to you to confirm that the appeal has been received and explain what happens next. The exact process will vary between different types of appeal.

Do I need to pay any tax in the meantime?

Making an appeal does not mean that you can simply not pay the tax in dispute.

For income tax, capital gains tax and corporation tax, you do not have to have paid the amount which HMRC says that you owe before appealing to HMRC or to the Tribunal, but the tax remains due and HMRC can start or continue with debt collection procedures.

You can apply to HMRC asking them to agree to a postponement of the disputed tax. This will suspend any debt collection procedures during the appeal.

You should apply by including a request for postponement when you make your appeal to HMRC. If HMRC refuse your postponement request, you can appeal to the Tribunal and ask for them to decide.

If you lose your appeal, you will have to pay interest on any postponed or otherwise late-paid tax in addition to the tax itself.

If you pay all the tax due on time, but then win your appeal, you may receive some extra interest as well as the repayment of the tax you have overpaid.

Tribunal process

There are different ways in which your case can be handled by the Tribunal depending on the facts, such as what it is you are appealing about and how complex your case is.

Paper appeals

Historically, the Tribunal has categorised appeals involving penalties of less than £2,000 as paper cases. This means that the appeal will be decided by a judge without a hearing on the basis of written information provided by you and HMRC. You will be given the opportunity to reply to the information provided by HMRC.

If you are told your case will be dealt with on paper, but you would prefer to have a hearing, you can request one.

If your case is to be dealt with as a paper appeal, it is important that your papers are neat and tidy so that the Tribunal can follow them. It is also important that you include all relevant information: for example, if you are appealing a penalty for filing your tax return late, and the reason you were late was because you were ill, you should include any information you have from your doctor. Read How do I prepare my case? which guides you through organising your papers.

With the introduction of video hearings, partly as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, fewer cases are being categorised as paper cases as these cases are now likely to be considered suitable for a video hearing as a basic appeal (see below), provided that you have access to a computer and broadband so that you can attend a video hearing.

If your case is not categorised as a paper case, you can request that it is dealt with on the papers instead of at a hearing. The Tribunal will only agree to this if HMRC also agree, and if the Tribunal considers that it is appropriate.

Basic appeals

If you are appealing a decision by HMRC to impose a penalty on you, and there is no dispute about any tax due, it is likely that your appeal will be categorised as a basic case if it is not categorised as a paper case.

These cases are usually listed for hearing without any further exchange of documents, so you will need to make sure that you bring all the documents you intend to rely upon to the Tribunal hearing. You should also make sure that you have provided all relevant information to HMRC beforehand as the Tribunal may not allow you to bring up new information for the first time in the hearing.

Standard (and complex) appeals

For all other appeals, you and HMRC will need to exchange documents before the hearing. The timetable and process for this is set out in Directions.

Note that complex appeals usually involve substantial amounts of tax, and are unlikely to involve those on lower incomes.

What happens if my appeal is made after the deadline?

Appeals to both HMRC and the Tribunal need to be made within a particular deadline (usually 30 days from the decision letter). This is not a just guideline: it is a legal requirement.

If your appeal is only a day or so late, it is likely to be accepted even though it is late. This is not guaranteed, however, and you should try to make sure that you respond in time.

If you know that your appeal is being made late, you will need to ask for permission to make a late appeal (whether to HMRC or the Tribunal) and will need to explain why the appeal has been made late.

If you appeal late to HMRC, and they refuse to allow the appeal to be made late, you can ask the Tribunal (within 30 days of the refusal by HMRC) for permission to appeal late to HMRC, again giving your explanation as to why the appeal has been made late. The Tribunal will consider the request. There will usually be a short hearing at which you will have the opportunity to expand on your explanation as to why the appeal has been made late and may be cross-examined by HMRC on that explanation.

If you appeal late to the Tribunal, the same process applies. You will need to ask for permission to appeal late, giving your explanation, and there may be a short hearing to consider the request.

Your appeal will not be able to proceed if you do not get permission to appeal late. A refusal of permission by the First-tier Tribunal can be appealed to the Upper Tribunal.

You should note that there are some things which the Tribunal (and HMRC) will not usually consider to be a good explanation for a late appeal. These will include:

  • lack of funds for a lawyer or other adviser, as the Tribunal is intended to be accessed by taxpayer directly;
  • being too busy (except in unusual circumstances); and
  • not being aware that there was a deadline, as this is generally included in the HMRC decision that you are appealing.

Statement of case

Once you have sent your appeal to the Tribunal, HMRC will be asked by the Tribunal to produce a ‘statement of case’. This usually must be provided by HMRC within 60 days of either the Tribunal’s request, or the grant of permission to appeal late if you have appealed late. A shorter time limit applies to paper cases.

The statement of case sets out HMRC’s view of the dispute between you. It will usually be very like the decision letter you are appealing. Its purpose is to make sure that HRMC has explained why it does not agree with you and to make sure that the legal basis for the dispute is set out.

If your appeal is not dealt with as a paper case, you do not need to reply to the statement of case. You will be able to provide your reply in the appeal hearing.

If your appeal is dealt with as a paper case, the Tribunal will ask whether you want to make a written reply to the statement of case. You are not obliged to make a written reply if you consider that you have given enough information in your appeal, but you should read the statement of case carefully and make sure that you have given enough information.

If there is anything else you want to add, you should do so in a letter. You are not required to put the explanation into any particular format. You should also include copies of any relevant documents if you have not already provided these with your appeal.

Directions

In standard (and complex) cases, once HMRC have provided their statement of case, the Tribunal will then send to both parties a list of things that need to be done for the hearing to take place, and the timetable for these things to be done. This list and timetable is called the Tribunal Directions.

The particular details will vary depending on how the case has been categorised but will generally set out the dates by which you and HMRC must:

  • exchange lists of documents which each intends to rely in Tribunal and provide the other party with copies of the documents that have not already been exchanged. If you get HMRC’s list before sending yours, you do not need to repeat in your list any documents that are on HMRC’s list. You can simply say that you will rely on documents in HMRC’s list, in addition to your own listed documents.
  • provide witness statements
  • provide details to the Tribunal to say who will attend the hearing and where the preferred location for the hearing is. The Tribunal will also ask you to say when you are not available in a defined time period so that they can avoid those dates when booking the hearing.
  • provide hearing and authorities documents bundles: if you are representing yourself, the bundles are usually prepared by HMRC. The hearing bundle will contain all of the documents in the lists of documents provided earlier, which is why it is important to make sure that you have included all the documents you want to rely on in the hearing. The authorities bundle contains details of the law and any relevant cases to which either or both of you and HMRC want to refer.
  • provide an outline of your case (also known as a skeleton argument)

The list above is an example of the types of things that will be included and can vary depending on the type of appeal: it is important that you follow and complete the particular timetable that you are given.

It is particularly important that you stick to the deadlines in the Directions: they are a specific timetable and not a general guideline.

The Tribunal can ‘strike out’ your case if you repeatedly fail to follow the Directions and/or fail to answer letters from the Tribunal that ask for a response. Striking out your case means that HMRC automatically win. Even if your case is not struck out, failure to follow the Directions without a good reason may lead to a costs order against you.

However, if you find that you will not be able to meet a particular deadline for a good reason (such as illness), you should tell the Tribunal as soon as possible. You should also tell them why you cannot meet the deadline and ask for an extension of time to meet that deadline. You should give a realistic date by which you will be able to provide the relevant information or document. An extension of time is not granted automatically, but if you ask in good time for a good reason it is likely to be granted.

What are witnesses and witness statements?

Any fact on which you rely, and which HMRC has not agreed, will have to be established as correct by you. Sometimes documents will help, and sometimes evidence from a witness, and sometimes both together.

In some cases, the Directions will require that the evidence which witnesses intend to provide is set out in advance in a witness statement (one for each witness). These witness statements will then need to be exchanged between you and HMRC before the hearing.

Witnesses

You are likely to be your own most important witness, and you may be the only witness. Even if you have other witnesses, you will have to produce a witness statement setting out your evidence if the Directions require that witness statements are produced. You must think carefully about what you will say.

You and any other witnesses are likely to be cross-examined by the person handling the case for HMRC.

It is unlikely that you will want to call a witness who is unwilling to give evidence. But if you do, you can apply to the Tribunal for a witness summons saying why you require that particular witness to attend. If your application is granted, the Tribunal can state that you must be responsible for the witness's necessary expenses of attending the hearing.

Witness statements

Witness statements set out, in numbered paragraphs, the evidence the witness is giving. For example, they might say something like:

‘On 1 April 20XX I had a meeting with ABC and a copy of a note I made immediately afterwards is at page XXX in section A2 of the file.’

Start writing your own witness statement as early as possible, and make sure it covers everything you said or did or were told and which matters for the purpose of your case. The statement should deal with each fact in date order.

If you are calling other witnesses, help them to make similar statements of their evidence, but make sure they are in their own words and not yours.

If HMRC calls any witnesses they will usually include copies of the witness statements in the hearing bundle, even if the Tribunal has not required witness statements to be produced and exchanged in the Directions.

Once you have a copy of the hearing documents bundle, make sure that references to documents in the witness statements have a note against them with the page number of the document in the hearing bundle. This will make it much easier for you to find the right document in the hearing.

What are skeleton arguments and outlines of cases?

In a standard case, the Directions may require that you and HMRC exchange an ‘outline of case’, also called a ‘skeleton argument’, a couple of weeks before the hearing. Depending on the type of case this may be a requirement, or an option. Read the Directions carefully to check which applies to you. HMRC will usually refer to this document as a ’skeleton argument’ and so that is the term we have used below.

Skeleton arguments summarise the relevant legal and technical issues and apply them to the facts you hope to prove. They can help enormously at the appeal hearing, as they will give you a structure to follow in your arguments and will help make sure that you have not left anything out.

The purpose of them is basically to set out how you understand the law should apply to your circumstances and it should give details of the relevant tax law and any other decided cases from the tax Tribunals or higher courts that might support your own case.

It should make reference to supporting documents within your bundle of papers for the case, where possible.

Do not be intimidated by unfamiliar language - the Tribunal description of this document as an ‘outline of case’ is a good summary of what the document is supposed to be. The point is to show how the law can be applied to the facts of your case. You can refer to pages of textbooks or website guidance to support your case rather than using the formal legislation. HMRC's guidance and manuals on the GOV.UK website can be very helpful in providing information.

Hearings

Most appeals will be dealt with at a hearing, so there are relatively few paper cases.

These will take place at a court centre, or by video (very occasionally, a hearing may be dealt with by telephone).

If the hearing is to be at a court centre, the Tribunal will usually try to list the hearing for a location that is relatively close to where you live. Court centres are available in larger towns and cities, so you may still have to travel some distance to attend the hearing.

Video hearings are carried out online, and you will need to have a mobile phone, a computer, and broadband internet access to be able to take part. If you do not have these, then the hearing will be held at a court centre. In some cases, you may be able to take part in a video hearing by using video hearing equipment at a court centre near to you instead of everyone having to travel to the same court centre.

Once your appeal is ready for hearing, the Tribunal will send you a notice of hearing telling you when and where your hearing is to be held.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service provide guidance (leaflet T242) on what happens at a hearing. We recommend that you read this in addition to our guidance below.

Catering for particular needs at a hearing

If you have any special needs which might need to be catered for at the hearing, for example a disability or if you will need an interpreter, you must tell the Tribunal so that arrangements can be made. Tell the Tribunal about these needs when you submit your appeal, so that there is plenty of time for the arrangements to be made.

Hearing dates

In basic cases, the Tribunal will arrange for a hearing without asking for available dates first. If you are not available on the date which they set, please let the Tribunal know as soon as you get the letter advising you of the hearing date. Do not leave it until shortly before the hearing as the Tribunal may not agree to postpone the hearing if you leave it until the last minute, without good reason, to say that you cannot attend.

For other cases, the Tribunal will have asked you (in the Directions) to say when you are not available to attend a hearing in a particular time frame. The hearing will be listed on a date which takes into account the days you say that you are not available.

If something later happens which means that you cannot attend on that day, you should tell the Tribunal as soon as possible and tell them why and ask for postponement. Note that postponements are not automatically granted and are less likely to be granted if the reason given is something which could be avoided or otherwise moved (for example, do not book a holiday for a time which includes the hearing date!).

Do I have to attend the hearing?

If you do not have someone representing you at the hearing, you will need to attend the hearing. If you do not attend without a good reason, the hearing is likely to go ahead even though you are not there. The judge will consider anything that you have written in the documents bundle, but you will miss the opportunity to explain your case in person and your written explanation may not cover everything that is needed.

Even if you have someone representing you at the hearing, you will still need to attend as you will usually need to give evidence. It is not possible for someone to give evidence on your behalf. If you do not attend, the hearing will generally still go ahead and the judge will consider your representative’s submissions and any documents in the bundle but, as above, your explanation will be limited in your absence.

If you do not wish to attend a hearing, you should request that your appeal be dealt with on the papers. This request should be made early on in the appeal process, and the request may not always be agreed by the Tribunal.

Will my appeal hearing be in public?

Before appealing, you should know that if your appeal is dealt with by a Tribunal hearing (rather than as a paper appeal) it will probably be heard in public.

Video hearings can also be attended by members of the public, although they will need to have requested access details from the Tribunal Service.

In both cases, human rights law requires public hearings as a general course.

You can apply for privacy on the grounds that a private hearing is necessary because, for example, minors are involved, or for the protection of your private life, or because publicity might affect a fair and just hearing. Privacy requests are not granted simply because you would prefer not to have the hearing in public.

Most legal proceedings, not just tax, are in public. It is very unlikely that you will find crowds of curious spectators or reporters at the hearing: most simple tax appeal hearings are attended by only the parties to the cases. A few cases on important points of tax law may be attended by one or two specialist tax reporters.

If you really think that there is a special case for your hearing to be held in private, you should make a request to HM Courts & Tribunals Service in plenty of time before the hearing date.

You should also be aware that full Tribunal decisions are often published on the internet and will contain details such as your name. If the hearing is held in private, the decision will either not be published or will be anonymised. If you opt for a summary decision, this will not be published. However, you will need to request a full decision if you lose the appeal and intend to make a further appeal to the Upper Tribunal.

How to get ready for a Tribunal hearing

You might want to ask HM Courts & Tribunals Service whether there are any earlier cases you can attend just to listen and watch. Their office will tell you if you telephone them. GOV.UK gives full contact details.

Rehearse your case in front of family or friends or, better still, any professional who will give you the time. This may help you to identify weak points, which you can clear up before the hearing.

How do I prepare my case?

Bear in mind that you might need to submit papers and documents to the Tribunal before the hearing, or if your case is to be dealt with exclusively on paper. The Tribunal will tell you if you need to do so and will give you a time limit. Make sure you take careful note of this and meet it.

How do I put my file together?

The object is to have a single file, for example, a ring-binder, which contains all your witness statements and copies of the documents you need to refer to and your 'skeleton argument' (see below) of the issues of your case. If there are a large number of documents or papers you may need more than one folder, but for most cases one should be enough.

In basic cases, HMRC will usually be preparing a similar file. The hearing will proceed more smoothly if you can agree with HMRC on a single file containing all the material needed by both sides.

In standard cases, the Tribunal requires that a joint file (the documents bundle) is provided. If you do not have a representative in the Tribunal, this will be put together and provided by HMRC using the documents in your (and their) list of documents.

The Tribunal may request that HMRC produce an electronic (PDF) bundle, particularly where the hearing will be held by video. If you would prefer that HMRC send you a physical paper file of the bundle in that case, you can ask that they do so.

If your case is a basic case, where you do have to provide your own file as well as copies for HMRC and the Tribunal, you should number the pages in the files. When you refer to a page during the hearing, everyone present who has one of your files will then know where to look, and will be looking at the same thing.

You can use dividers to separate the file into sections, but if you use them, make sure that every file has the same divisions.

Should I try to settle my dispute before the hearing?

You can settle an appeal by agreement with HMRC. Given that HMRC have an internal review process, you are unlikely to proceed to a Tribunal appeal if you can resolve the dispute by agreement.

If you make an appeal to the Tribunal, you need to prepare your case. It takes a lot of time to prepare properly.

It may take time for the appeal to be listed for hearing. You will usually have at least 28 days' notice of the hearing date, unless you agree otherwise, or in urgent or exceptional circumstances.

What happens on the day of the appeal hearing?

HM Courts & Tribunals Service provide guidance (leaflet T242) on what will happen at the hearing, and GOV.UK has some simple information, all of which we recommend you read in addition to our notes. Importantly, you can take someone along with you, even if they are only there for moral support.

Depending on how your case is being dealt with, proceedings of the Tribunal may vary in formality, but the following gives an outline of how the hearing might flow.

At the start

Turn up in good time for the hearing. Aim to arrive (or log on for a video hearing) at least half an hour beforehand. If going to a court centre, make sure you know in advance exactly where you have to go, how to get there and how long it will take to get there in rush hour traffic. Make sure any witnesses you want to call come too.

Most court centres will not allow you to take food or drink into a court room. You may be allowed to take in a bottle of water; although water is usually provided in jugs in a court room, this has stopped during the pandemic. If you need to take anything else in with you for health reasons, you should let the Tribunal know in advance.

If HMRC have prepared and sent you a hearing bundle (and possibly an authorities bundle), you only need to bring your copy of the bundle(s) with you to the Tribunal centre.

If HMRC have not sent a hearing bundle (for example, if your appeal is categorised as a basic case) then you will need to bring with you your files, with additional copies: one or two for the Tribunal, one for the HMRC representative, and one for witnesses to refer to. You should check beforehand how many copies the Tribunal will need. Each set should be in a file containing exactly the same material as the others.

The above is general advice - please make sure you follow any instructions you are given by the Tribunal Service.

Setting out your case

The Tribunal judge will explain how the proceedings are to be conducted. If the judge is sitting with a lay member, they will introduce that person. A lay member is an accountant or other professional or business person who works with the judge in deciding the case.

You will usually be invited to open your appeal by explaining what it is about. This is because, in most cases, it is the taxpayer who has the ‘burden of proof’ and has to show that they are correct about the tax position and so you will put your case first, and then have the ‘last word’ at the end of the hearing.

In a very few cases, HMRC will open and put their case first: this generally happens where HMRC have the ‘burden of proof’ and are required to show that they are correct. The judge will let you know if this is the case.

When you explain your appeal, take everyone through your file so that they can see how it is arranged and what it contains.

After you have explained briefly what your appeal is about, you will call your witnesses, starting with yourself.

You must be clear when you are giving evidence as a witness and when you are addressing the Tribunal as the person making the case, but the judge will help you.

When you give evidence, it will probably be enough to refer to your written statement and say that it is true. You probably will not be asked to read it out, but if you are asked, you must do so.

When you have finished, you will be cross-examined by HMRC. HMRC’s purpose in the cross-examination will be to check the truth of what you have said and to put HMRC's case to you, so far as it conflicts with the facts as you give them.

Remain calm and answer the questions honestly and simply. You may make a note of the questions asked and of your answers. The judge or the lay member of the Tribunal may ask you questions as well. You should note that the questions are intended to establish the proper decision on the appeal in law; they are not intended to be a personal attack.

When the cross-examination is finished, you may raise a few extra points that have arisen from it if you feel that you did not get the opportunity to explain something clearly or completely. Try to keep any additional comments very short, and make sure the Tribunal can make a note of the points you are making.

After that, if you have any other witnesses, you can call them and refer them to their statements and ask them to add to any point you think worth stressing. Then they may be cross-examined by HMRC, and you should listen carefully to the questions and answers and note them down.

When HMRC have finished their cross-examination, you can ask the witness additional questions to help explain anything which seems to call for further explanation because of the cross-examination.

HMRC's case

Once you have explained your appeal and your witnesses have given their evidence, it will then be HMRC’s turn to explain their case and call their witnesses. If they call any witnesses, you will have the right to cross-examine each of them when they have been taken through their witness statements.

You may have received their statements in advance, in which case you should prepare the questions you want to ask them. Your cross-examination should be calm and polite and should probe their account of events where that differs from yours or that of your witnesses.

Try to note down your questions and the answers you are given.

After HMRC witnesses have finished, HMRC will probably sum up their case. They will go through the relevant evidence and say what they think the facts of the case are and explain how they consider the law relates to those facts. If HMRC have a skeleton argument, you will probably have seen it in advance and HMRC are likely to base their comments upon it.

The last word

Normally you will be given the last word. The idea at this point is to explain why you consider that you should win your appeal. The Tribunal judge (or the lay member, if there is one) may ask you questions, and you should listen to them carefully and answer them to the best of your ability.

Breaks for lunch or overnight

It is quite likely that there will be a break at lunchtime. Note that, if you need more frequent breaks for health reasons, you should let the Tribunal know beforehand.

If any of your witnesses is in the middle of giving evidence at that time, you must not talk to them during the lunch break.

If your case lasts more than one day, there will be an adjournment at the end of the first day. The same principles apply to witnesses who are giving evidence as during the lunch break.

Make use of the breaks to assess whether you need to adjust your plans.

When the case is finished

When the case is finished, the Tribunal may give their decision straight away, or may say that they will send it in writing. Even if the Tribunal give their decision straight away, they will send you a written decision notice stating the decision and notifying you of any further right of appeal.

The First-tier Tribunal must provide either a summary or full statement of agreed facts and reasons for the decision, unless you agree that they can provide only a short decision which states whether you have won or lost the appeal. Even if you agree on the day to receive a short decision, you can ask for a full statement. The short decision will include details of the time limit for making such a request.

Where can I get some help?

You do not need to have a lawyer, or other tax adviser, in order to appeal to HMRC or to the Tribunal. You can represent yourself, and the majority of people who appeal to the Tribunal do represent themselves.

However, you may feel more comfortable dealing with the Tribunal if you do get professional assistance.

The following information is for people who cannot afford to pay for professional advice. If you can afford to pay, we tell you how you can find a tax adviser in our Getting Help section.

Are there public funds available?

In practice, there is no public funding for virtually all tax appeals.

In a very few exceptional cases, you may have the right to help from public funds in fighting your case if:

  • the appeal concerns penalties that the courts have declared to be criminal within the terms specified by the European Convention on Human Rights or where you want to argue that issue; and
  • it is in the interests of justice that you should be legally represented; and
  • you are financially eligible for funding.

If you think you may be eligible for public funds, read the factsheet The Human Rights Act and Penalties.

Where can I find free advice and representation?

The following charities specialise in giving free tax advice to people on low incomes, who cannot afford to pay a professional adviser:

Please be aware that the above charities might not be able to support your case right through the appeal process and they may not be able to help you if you do not meet their criteria as low-income and/or older taxpayers.

You could also ask for advice from your local Citizens Advice.

Representation at a hearing is harder to come by, but Advocate is a charity that helps put potential clients in touch with barristers who are prepared to handle a case for no fee.

How do I help the person giving me advice?

If you do seek help, make it easy for the person providing it. That will make it cheaper, if you are paying, and quicker and better, whether you are paying or not.

  • Prepare a summary, which explains the main points and asks the questions you want answered.
  • Provide copies of all relevant correspondence with HMRC, in date order and filed or stapled together so it is easy to handle.
  • If accounts are important, make sure they are clear and preferably professionally prepared.
  • Do not supply scraps of paper or unexplained bills or bank statements in the hope that the adviser will sort it all out and make sense of it.

This preparatory work you do will help not only your adviser but will be valuable in preparing your case to be presented to the Tribunal.

How do I take matters further if I lose?

If your case is heard by the First-tier Tribunal, and they tell you at the hearing that you have lost, you should ask for a ‘full written decision’ to be sent to you.

You will then be free to embark on the process of an appeal to the Upper Tribunal if you so decide. You first have to apply for permission to appeal – see guidance on GOV.UK. If you are given permission, GOV.UK then further explains the appeal to the Upper Tribunal.

You should think very carefully before you decide to make any further appeal. An appeal to the First-tier Tribunal involves little risk of you having to pay substantial costs. If you make an appeal to the Upper Tribunal, or above, you may have to pay HMRC's legal costs as well as your own, if you lose. The amounts could be considerable.

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