Help from HMRC if you have additional needs
All customers potentially face problems when interacting with HMRC due to the complexity of HMRC’s work. However, these problems can be made worse for some customers with additional needs such as a disability. Here we explore the various services that HMRC offer for people with additional needs. Full details of services are available on GOV.UK.
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The public sector equality duty
The public sector equality duty, contained in the Equality Act 2010, means that public bodies have to consider all individuals when carrying out their day-to-day work – in shaping policy, in delivering services and in relation to their own employees.
Specifically, it requires that public bodies have due regard to the need to:
- eliminate discrimination
- advance equality of opportunity
- foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities
Advancing equality of opportunity means public bodies have to:
- remove or minimise disadvantages for groups of people
- take steps to meet the needs of protected groups of people (which can include disabled people)
- encourage all groups of people to participate in public life or other activity in situations where their participation is low
Public bodies are required to publish relevant, proportionate information showing compliance with the equality duty, and to set equality objectives. You can find the latest information onhow HMRC aim meet their obligations on GOV.UK.
If you are disabled
There are over 10 million disabled people in the UK and most of these are HMRC customers. HMRC have a legal obligation under the Equality Act to provide an accessible service for all of their customers.
The Equality Act defines a disability as ‘a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal daily activities’. ‘Substantial’ and ‘long term’ mean:
- ‘substantial’ is more than minor or trivial, e.g. it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed;
- ‘long-term’ means 12 months or more.
Further information about matters to be taken into account in interpreting disability, can be found in this Equality Act guidance. You will see on page 29 of that document that fluctuating conditions, i.e. ones where the effects come and go over a period of time, can be treated as long term if it previously had a substantial adverse effect and is likely to recur.
You should also note that the definition of disability in use for the Equality Act purposes will not necessarily apply for other purposes. For example, when thinking about penalties for compliance failures (e.g. failing to file a tax return or pay tax on time) HMRC may accept having a disability as a ‘reasonable excuse’ for not doing what you were supposed to. HMRC do not qualify this any further other than to say that what counts will be personal to the individual’s abilities and circumstances.
If you have a mental health condition
Having a mental health condition can affect your ability to cope with day-to-day life – maybe entirely, partially or just from time to time – and this will include having to deal with HMRC.
Nearly all of the estimated one-in-four of us that will experience some mental health condition in a given year will come into contact with HMRC at some time, whether through employment, self-employment, pensions, other income or tax credits. HMRC recognise that a mental health condition can make it harder to manage your tax and benefit affairs and that dealing with paperwork or even communicating with HMRC can seem like an impossible task.
HMRC want to support people with mental health conditions as much as possible. Under the public sector equality duty (described above), HMRC have a legal duty to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ to individuals with disabilities to ensure they can access HMRC services. Many mental health conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder and psychosis may be classed as disabilities. Similarly, those with declining mental capacity due to dementia may need extra support, or eventually come to rely on others to help them deal with HMRC. HMRC also recognise that certain life events, such as bereavement can also impact on a person's ability to cope.
Even if your mental health condition does not amount to a ‘disability’ under the definition given in the Equality Act, if it affects your ability to meet your tax obligations you may still ask for it to be taken into consideration.
Under the Equality Act, HMRC must take positive steps to remove the barriers a person faces because of their disability. This is called the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
A reasonable adjustment may involve a change to a process, practice or procedure and HMRC will normally be willing to consider making reasonable adjustments such as:
- The adviser taking it slow and summarising the conversation to ensure you understand.
- Writing rather than phoning (or phoning rather than writing).
- Dealing with an intermediary, for example a friend or relative, on your behalf (although you may have to sign a letter or form of authority before HMRC will do this).
- Providing extra time for something to be dealt with.
This list just contains examples – HMRC will normally look at your personal situation and consider the extent to which it is practicable for them to take the steps before deciding what kind of reasonable adjustment might be appropriate in your case. You should not be afraid to ask to speak to a supervisor or manager (or a person in the ‘Extra Support Team’ – see below) if you do not feel you are making progress in your conversation with the HMRC adviser about your circumstances and needs.
If you have impaired hearing or speech
For basic information on contacting HMRC if you have additional needs, see GOV.UK.
If you have a speech impairment, are deaf or hard of hearing, you can contact HMRC by text relay.
- Text relay: you can contact HMRC by dialling the text relay service prefix number 18001 followed by the relevant HMRC telephone number. For example, the phone number for general income tax enquiries is 0300 200 3300. You can contact them by text relay by dialling 18001 0300 200 3300. Further details are available on GOV.UK.
- You may also be able to use webchat to talk to someone. You can get further details on our page Tax and tax credits: help from HMRC.
HMRC have a series of British Sign Language videos that can be watched on the HMRC YouTube channel, including:
In addition, the Royal Association for Deaf People (RAD) and HMRC have worked together to make information and advice more accessible for deaf people in the UK. HMRC and RAD previously offered a video interpreting service but this has now closed. However, RAD do have a video update providing information on how they can support you if you have a tax query.
If you are blind or partially sighted
For basic information on contacting HMRC if you have additional needs see GOV.UK.
If you have a visual impairment, dyslexia or other disability and need material in an alternative format HMRC can produce most paper forms, leaflets and other information in the following formats:
- large print
- audio on CD
- text on CD (standard or large print)
- other formats on request, for example, coloured paper
However, it takes more time to produce material in an alternative format so there may be a delay in receiving your correspondence.
HMRC has a visually impaired media unit which provides the enhanced products. They cannot be contacted directly. You should call HMRC first, using the relevant contact number. Tell the adviser what you need and they will arrange for it to be sent out to you by the special unit.
The HMRC Charter
You can also find the HMRC Charter on GOV.UK. The charter sets out the standards of behaviour and values HMRC should aspire to in their dealings with people and businesses using their services.
It is an important protection for taxpayers and every year HMRC have to report on how they are performing against the standards expected of them.
Principles of support
HMRC have published principles of support for people who use their services who may need extra help; this guidance is on GOV.UK.
If you need extra support
If you are having problems dealing with your tax or tax credits or are struggling to resolve an issue with them, HMRC have a team that is specially trained to deal with vulnerable taxpayers and may be able to help – the extra support service.
Complaining to HMRC
If you have a complaint about the way you have been treated, HMRC have a complaints process within which they address issues relating to equality. You can find out more about what to do if you have a complaint and/or what to do if it is not settled to your satisfaction in the first instance, on our page Complaining to HMRC.