Getting help with tax
We are not able to provide an advice service about tax or tax credit issues. However, there are various sources of support, which you can find out about in this part of the site. This page starts off our series of getting help pages by explaining more about the help you can find on GOV.UK.
If you are looking for practical help, please see the following pages:
- Tax and tax credits: help from HMRC
- Help from HMRC if you have additional needs (which leads on to our page on HMRC’s extra support service)
- Help with tax from friends, family, professionals or other organisations
You might need to look at different sources of help if you are dealing with the affairs of someone who has died. See our page: Tax help on bereavement, trusts and estates.
Content on this page:
GOV.UK is the website to use to find government services and information.
Through GOV.UK, government departments, including HMRC, provide all their information in a central point.
The material on GOV.UK is intended to be simple and clear. Although GOV.UK works closely with every relevant government department on the content, you need to be careful, because sometimes the information or guidance it gives is over-simplified or inaccurate. Sometimes the guidance is updated ‘silently’ and it is not clear how or when it has changed.
As such, whilst it has to be recognised that no amount of guidance can be a substitute for individual advice, if you have an unusual or complex situation, you may wish to seek to confirm what you have understood from GOV.UK with another source.
You can also find all of the HMRC manuals on GOV.UK. The manuals contain HMRC’s interpretation of the law and an insight as to how certain matters are dealt with.
How to search GOV.UK
The government is keen that people use GOV.UK for all of their searches relating to tax and benefits.
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.
Always try to use GOV.UK to search for government information or services rather than a generic search engine such as Google. 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.
If you prefer to use a generic search engine, try including the term “site:gov.uk” in your search. This will exclude copycat websites. Otherwise, please be aware that some such websites may pay for advertising space so that they appear at the top of search engine results. The difference between ‘Ads’ and organic search results isn’t always clear, so be aware of this (and other signs of legitimate websites) when you are online and searching for official information or services.
If you are disabled, information about the accessibility of HMRC’s documents can be found on GOV.UK. Also on GOV.UK is information more generally about accessibility including commentary about screen readers and speech recognition systems.
How to use information on GOV.UK
If you look something up on GOV.UK and then act upon the information you find there – for example, you use the guidance to:
- fill in boxes on your tax return;
- claim a tax repayment;
- claim tax credits; or
- notify (or equally decide that you do not need to notify) a change in circumstances for tax credits
we recommend that you print and keep or electronically save a copy of the website page, or take a screenshot. This should be dated. This could be extremely important if it later turns out that you made an error by relying on the guidance – it could help you argue that penalties should not be charged, for instance.
On the other hand, based on the information you read, you may decide that you need do nothing: you might decide, for example, that you cannot make a claim to tax credits or are not entitled to claim a certain expense for tax purposes. This is a more difficult area, but if you decide not to take any action based on the guidance available we suggest you also keep a copy of the guidance you looked at with the relevant date that you checked the guidance. This will help if you find out at a later date that you should have taken some action but did not because the guidance did not cover your situation, was misleading or incorrect.
Relying on GOV.UK
If you are unsure about a tax issue and you cannot afford to pay for professional advice, you may choose to research the issue yourself. For example, you might phone HMRC or look at GOV.UK. On the basis of the information you obtain you might take a decision about how you should comply with a tax obligation – for example, the information might help you complete your tax return in a certain way.
It is crucial that you keep a clear record of what you have relied on.
Later, if HMRC ask you a question about the decision you made, you will then be able to refer to the guidance you were given.
You may think that is the end of the matter. Unfortunately it may not be, so it is important to know the extent to which you might rely on advice or guidance if it later turns out to be incorrect.
HMRC publish a statement on GOV.UK explaining the circumstances in which you might be able to rely on incorrect advice and information provided by them.
The position depends on what you asked, the context of the question and where you obtained your answer. This does not mean you cannot rely on what you are told or what you find out from published material, but it does mean you need to take some care. For example, if you need clarification of a point, you need to make that clear if you telephone for help and provide all of the relevant information. Similarly, if you intend to rely on information on GOV.UK, you need to make sure you have read the material carefully to see if there are any exceptions to the general rule.
Nevertheless, where HMRC (or another government body) has made public statements about how a matter will be dealt with then you may have a ‘legitimate expectation’ that that is how the matter will be dealt with.
Note that if you have decided to continue your search into the HMRC manuals, that are available online, you need to be aware that these manuals are prepared for the use of HMRC staff and you cannot rely on them to the same extent.
If HMRC change their position
HMRC will often amend guidance as soon as they become aware it is incorrect, but that is of little use to you if you have relied on it in the meantime, especially where you may not know that the guidance has changed.
HMRC’s view is that they need to be fair to the taxpaying public as a whole so will try to collect any tax they think is due. But HMRC also have a duty of care towards taxpayers. Previously this was a duty of “care and management” by the Board of the Inland Revenue. While, following the merger of the Inland Revenue and HM Customs & Excise in 2007 to create HMRC, this duty has become one of “collection and management”, there is still a responsibility on HMRC not to mislead taxpayers. You may have to dispute the position with HMRC.
The courts have suggested that if HMRC have made a clear and unambiguous statement on a matter, you should be able to rely on it.
If you want to refer to information provided by phone, provided that you gave the adviser full and frank information, then you should be able to rely on this – but you may have to provide evidence that the call took place. Many phone calls are recorded now, so it makes sense to note the date and time of the call and take the name of the person you discussed the matter with.
If HMRC still refuse to let you rely on their guidance. Your first port of call should be to make a complaint in writing setting out the facts of the case. We provide more information on how to do this, including potential next steps following a complaint, on our page Complaining to HMRC.
Finding old pages from GOV.UK
There can be a particular issue with GOV.UK as it is being updated and rewritten all the time. But if you saw something before and it’s not there now, you can track down old GOV.UK pages should you need to.
Old content on GOV.UK is kept as a public record for permanent preservation in the UK government web archive (UKGWA). It regularly takes copies (snap shots) of whole websites including GOV.UK, meaning that people can see how they change over time – and locate information no longer available on the live website. Snapshots of GOV.UK going back to 2012 can be found here.
You can often use and browse archived websites as you would a live website. However, due to technical limitations in the software that captures website content, some functionality is not available in archived versions of sites. For example, the original GOV.UK built-in search facility will not work, which may hinder you finding the old page that you want. But if you know roughly where the information that you viewed previously was located, you should be able to navigate a path to the page that you are looking for from the home page. So, for example, if you wanted to see the original instructions for claiming the marriage allowance, you might search in early April 2015 because the allowance first became available from 6 April 2015. Clicking on the archived content for 18 April 2015 shows some categories to look in. Choosing ‘Money and tax’ gives a further menu from which marriage allowance can be found.
If you are not successful using this method, there is also the UKGWA full text search service which searches the text of webpages lodged in its archive. You can search using key words, or you can perform narrower searches. For example, you can exclude certain terms from search results or restrict the search so that only results from archived versions of a particular website are displayed. If you want to do this for GOV.UK, where it says 'only within this website’ type ‘www.gov.uk’ in the box.
Because of the size of the archive and because the archive often holds multiple versions of web pages harvested over different dates, such searches can produce a lot of results. You can find the UKGWA’s in-depth guide for searching the web archive here, which may help you limit the amount of irrelevant results you get and locate the content.
Ideally though, as mentioned above, the best thing you can do when using GOV.UK is always to keep a copy of information on which you might later need to rely, by printing or saving a copy of the webpage or taking a screenshot. However, we recognise that this isn’t always going to happen in which case, the web archive facility described here becomes a useful alternative.
If you live in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland
If you live in Northern Ireland, you may find NI direct helpful.
If you live in Wales, you may find the website of the Welsh Government helpful.
As with GOV.UK, if you use any of these websites as a source of information, we recommend that you print out or save a copy of the relevant webpage and keep it somewhere safe, in case of a later dispute.