Help with tax from friends, family, professionals or other organisations
All taxpayers can appoint someone to deal with HMRC on their behalf. This may be a friend or family member, as well as a professional adviser or someone from a voluntary organisation.
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How to appoint someone
Before HMRC will discuss your affairs with someone else, they need you to confirm that you are happy with this arrangement. Sometimes it is possible to do this informally over the phone. The member of HMRC staff will want to speak to you directly to confirm who you are and that you are happy for them to discuss your affairs with someone else. However, normally this will only be permitted on one occasion, after that you will probably have to appoint an intermediary or agent (see below).
Please note that if you just require a form, or have a general query, there should be no problem for HMRC to talk to your representative about this – they should not be asked for a proof of identity or any other security questions.
Appointing a trusted helper
If you want your family member or friend to help you manage your tax online, they need to be registered with HMRC as a trusted helper. Please note that a trusted helper can only help you with limited tasks, such as checking you are paying the right amount of income tax, checking or updating your personal tax account or requesting a tax refund. A trusted helper cannot prepare or submit a tax return on your behalf.
To register as a trusted helper, your chosen person will need to follow the instructions on GOV.UK. As part of the process they will need to provide details to prove their identity through the government gateway. This can be their existing government gateway ID if they already have one, for instance, if they already use HMRC online services to manage their own tax affairs. If they do not have a government gateway ID they will need to set one up before they can register as a trusted helper.
Once your chosen person has registered as a trusted helper, you will then need to sign in using your own government gateway ID to accept them as a trusted helper on your account. If you do not have a government gateway ID or are otherwise not able to access HMRC services digitally, you should be able to authorise the trusted helper over the telephone by calling HMRC.
Appointing an intermediary
You can arrange for someone else to communicate with HMRC on your behalf by appointing what is called an intermediary. An intermediary can speak to HMRC on your behalf and help you to complete forms.
To authorise an intermediary to help deal with your tax, you need to write to HMRC. The letter to authorise an intermediary must include:
- your name and address
- your tax reference number
- the name and address of the person or organisation you want to authorise
- your signature
An intermediary is a kind of half-way house between dealing with things yourself and appointing an agent (usually a tax professional) to deal with everything for you. An intermediary will not have access to your tax online so if you would like someone to help you with this, you will need to appoint a trusted helper.
Once this authority has been lodged and processed, you should be aware that HMRC may send correspondence to your authorised intermediary without sending a copy to you and vice versa. You should make sure that you and your representative discuss all correspondence received from HMRC with each other.
Every decision that your representative makes should be authorised by you. You will still be legally responsible for your own tax.
The appointment of an intermediary, trusted helper or agent, as discussed above, will not be effective if you lose mental capacity. At that time, authority would normally rest with an attorney appointed by you under a power of attorney. If you had not appointed an attorney then, as described below, the court would have to appoint someone to deal with your affairs.
Powers of attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document that lets you appoint someone to help you make decisions or to make decisions on your behalf. This gives you more control over who will make decisions for you if, for example, you have an accident or an illness and can’t make decisions at the time they need to be made (you lack mental capacity).
The appointment of an intermediary, trusted helper or agent, as discussed in this section, will not be effective if you lose mental capacity. At that time, authority would rest with an attorney appointed by you under a lasting power of attorney (or an enduring power of attorney, if made before 1 October 2007).
There are two forms of lasting power in England and Wales. There is a lasting power for health and welfare decisions and a lasting power for property and financial affairs. You can choose to make one type or both. The property and financial affairs lasting power will cover decisions about your tax affairs.
In Scotland you can make a continuing power of attorney for decisions about property and financial affairs and a welfare power of attorney for decisions about your health and welfare matters. In Northern Ireland you can make an enduring power of attorney and can restrict the areas over which it will operate, if you wish.
You can only make a lasting (or continuing or enduring) power of attorney when you have mental capacity (and you have to be over 18) so it is sensible to put arrangements in place when you are able to do so in case you suffer from an accident or an illness that might later prevent you from making your own decisions.
If you lose capacity and have not made a lasting power of attorney (or continuing power of attorney in Scotland or enduring power of attorney in Northern Ireland) then it may be necessary for a third party to make an application to court to be appointed as your deputy to deal with your affairs. A deputy can only act under a court order (of the Court of Protection in England and Wales). It is generally significantly more expensive to appoint a deputy than to make a lasting power of attorney – and it can also take some time. A deputy for your property and financial affairs will not generally be required if you have previously made a lasting power of attorney for property and financial affairs provided the power has been properly registered and the attorney is able to act.
For more information on powers of attorney, including how to make one, see GOV.UK.
In terms of how to notify a power of attorney with HMRC, our understanding is that HMRC will require an original, solicitor-certified copy or ‘Office of the Public Guardian’ official office copy as evidence of a power of attorney.
It is our understanding that there is not a central address within HMRC for the document to be sent in to. Instead they are sent to the office that is dealing with the case. When it is sent to HMRC, it does not get noted across the board, so, for example, if you send it in for income tax, you may have to notify separately for child benefit, NICs etc.
Also note that an attorney would not be granted access to an online tax account as there is a risk that information outside of the scope of the authority would then be available to the attorney. Instead, providing the right documentation is in place HMRC would disclose the required information to the attorney by post or phone (depending on local guidance) or act upon any documentation sent in by the attorney. This means that an attorney may not be able to complete an online tax return, and may need to send in a paper tax return, for example.
If you are on a low income, the tax charities can help with all manner of problems including:
- P800 problems (including ‘employer error’ cases)
- Late filing penalties (often for tax returns incorrectly issued) and determinations/special relief
- Preparing tax returns for those in low-paid self-employment, including CIS
- Tax debt issues (including helping to arrange payment plans or remission)
- State pension/tax code issues
- Tax on bereavement
- Worldwide disclosure/foreign income reporting (particularly foreign pensions)
They normally expect you to have attempted to sort the issue out with HMRC yourself before contacting them.
TaxAidoffer free, confidential advice on tax to those on low incomes via national helpline, and provide face-to-face services in London, Manchester, Birmingham, and Newcastle upon Tyne. They are specialists in dealing with tax debt. They also give advice via email and undertakes casework by correspondence.
TaxAid do not provide advice on Corporation Tax/VAT, Tax Planning, Tax Credits, Benefits, Council Tax or non-UK tax issues. They also do not provide help with tax credits, DWP benefits, limited companies or council tax.
They can be contacted on 0345 120 3779. Please see TaxAid’s website for further details of their helpline and what to prepare before you call.
Tax Help for Older People
Tax Help for Older People offer help on all tax issues, except self-employment, for older people with household incomes under £20,000. If the issue is self-employment, then TaxAid can help instead. They operate across the UK from office based near Bridport in Dorset, assisted by a team of staff along with a national network of volunteers across the UK.
Most of the volunteers are currently practising or retired tax professionals, including retired HMRC staff. A Tax Help adviser will seek to resolve tax problems over the phone in first instance. If problem is complex or person would benefit from a more direct tax support service, then arrangements can be made to meet in local tax surgeries in area or have a home visit.
They do not provide help with tax credits, DWP benefits, limited companies or council tax.
They can be contacted on 01308 488 066.
Help from a tax professional on a paid basis
The tax charities and friends and family cannot help everyone. And no matter how much we try and help people through our guidance, in many instances (particularly where an issue has several strands), there can be no substitute for having a tax professional act on your behalf, even if it means having to pay (although it may not be as costly as you think).
Accountants or tax advisers are often very happy to undertake basic compliance work for individuals – even if it is a one-off.
As a first step, you should ask your friends/family for local recommendations. If this doesn’t work, look on the internet. Many accountants or tax advisers in practice on their own have websites – you should check that any adviser is a member of a professional tax or accountancy body (they may have a badge on display).
You can find a professional Chartered Tax Adviser or a member of the Association of Taxation Technicians by using the Find a member tools. Both Chartered Tax Advisers and Taxation Technicians are subject to high professional and ethical standards.
To use the tool, select ‘I’m looking for tax advice’, your rough location (optional), and the area of tax that you need help with in the drop-down box (for example, Expatriate Tax). If you are not sure, you should select ‘All’.
Some ATTs/CTAs that you might find using the tool are employed by tax or accountancy firms and are not able to take on their own clients, but many of them are in practice on their own account.
The tool only lists phone numbers and email addresses, rather than website addresses but it is usually possible to spot those able to help you, as they will often have a business name that includes their own name for example: Joe Bloggs, Joe Bloggs Taxes Ltd, [email protected].
When you make contact, it is a good idea to ask about the adviser’s charges and whether you will have to pay anything for an initial discussion about your requirements. Top tip: you can minimise charges by getting your paperwork together/straight and making things as easy as possible for the adviser.
Some advisers will only provide online services, however if you prefer to talk to someone face to face, many will happily arrange to meet you, for example at your home or their place of work.
There are also networks of tax and accountancy franchises in towns all over the UK and many of the individual offices will be run by ATTs/CTAs. Do not be put off if their signage indicates that they help solely businesses because many also help individuals. Again, you should check that they are a member of a relevant professional tax or accountancy body.
If you want to verify that an adviser you have found is a member of the Association of Taxation Technicians or Chartered Institute of Taxation – you can do this using the tool. Select ‘I’m looking for a member’ rather than ‘I’m looking for tax advice’.
We can’t recommend any particular adviser or provider, but the information here should at least give you a starting point to your further research. What we will say however, is that you should be very wary of using tax refund companies.
Using an app
These days there are a wide range of smart phone apps (applications) available to help those with self-employment or rental income keep on top of their finances and taxes.
They offer a range of services such as:
- helping you to track your income and expenses via open banking technology (and categorising them for tax purposes),
- snapping and storing photos of receipts,
- sending an invoice,
- checking your cashflow and potential tax liability.
Prices vary depending on the functionality desired although some apps have free, basic offerings (typically as a way to promote their more advanced products).
Apps may make it easier when the time comes to complete any tax return required (although you may need to make adjustments to the figures - see our quick word of warning below). Indeed, some apps help you to do a tax return by automating it from the data or offering to introduce you to their accountants (if you want more personalised help). This approach means that they can often offer accountancy support at an affordable rate, because a lot of the accounting work is taken care of by the app.
More widely, some apps may also point out potential tax savings and deductions that you could benefit from and some may offer you access to ‘expert advice.’
It is unclear to what extent these apps have access to professional tax advisers, when building their products, designing their prompts and explanations or when handling your tax return. So you should bear in mind what we say below at ‘Verifying information found online’. Also bear in mind that even if you use a third party to file your tax return, in the eyes of HMRC you remain responsible for the entries.
You should also remember that HMRC, currently, have their own free software that can be used by those who want to file a tax return online although we recognise that going it alone can be a bit daunting, especially if you’re a first-time filer and some people might like the extra support from the app. Note however - HMRC’s free software will not be available to use for Making Tax Digital for Income Tax, so you may eventually need to use a third party provider anyway.
Using apps to track your income and expenses for your tax return
Most apps count the amount paid into someone’s bank account, which is the net amount – i.e. after any platform fees and commissions etc. have been taken at source. As such, you may need to make some adjustments to work out your actual gross income figure. This would be particularly important when considering the trading allowance, where you need to measure your gross turnover against the £1,000 threshold. For example, if you receive income of £892.50 direct to your bank account from a website which sells craft goods and the website charges 15% fees to sell the goods, the gross trading income is £1,050 (£1,050 less 15% fees (£157.50) is £892.50). This means you would not be eligible for full relief of the trading allowance and will need to register for self-employment and complete a tax return.
Most apps also classify outgoing account transactions as personal expenditure or business expenditure. There might be some occasions where things are a bit of both and it is usually possible to add a note in the app, to manually record that there was, say, a 50% private use adjustment needed to the business expenditure amount. However, you would then need to ensure that the correct figures flow through to the tax return. If, say, someone notes their phone bill of £80 is half business, they would need to ensure that only £40 flows through to the tax return.
Verifying information found online
Tax can be very complex and we are concerned that people may be told things or read things online or on social media about their taxes that may be wrong.
For example, some worker and consumer platforms and sites provide help by setting up ‘community’ forums where users can share information or solicit advice, including about tax matters. In such spaces however, there may be no control over the accuracy of the content and so you could easily be misled by incorrect information posted in good faith by another user (even if they call themselves an accountant – remember tax is not regulated and anyone can call themselves an accountant).
If you are told something about your tax, we suggest you try and ‘double check’ what you are being told. We would usually recommend approaching HMRC or a professional tax adviser either via one of the tax charities or on a paid basis (see below). LITRG also produce a range of information and guidance.
Help with council tax
If you are having trouble paying your council tax, think you may be entitled to extra support, reliefs or reductions, or just need some advice you should contact your own council. Each council operates an entirely separate budget and funding process and will also have its own process for collecting council tax.
You may be able to apply for a discount, perhaps because you live alone or because you want to make a lump sum payment. You can also ask to pay in instalments. Each case is reviewed individually. You should ask the council to confirm any reduction, relief or special agreements you get in writing, in case you need it for future reference.
If you think you are going to struggle to pay your council tax, we recommend that you get in touch with them quickly as the consequences of missing payments can be severe. Failure to act can mean that the council might start enforcement action and bailiffs may visit you.
If you find it difficult to use the telephone or get to the council offices, ask if somebody can visit you at home.
If you have a council tax debt and are also struggling to pay other bills and organisations, we recommend that you seek further debt advice. There are many charities and not for profit organisations who can help you and their advice is free and confidential.
Help with benefits
A number of charities offer help on a wide range of benefit and tax credit issues. Some also specialise in supporting people who need help to deal with debt related problems.
- Citizens Advice: England, Scotland and Wales offer help on a range of issues, including tax credits, council tax, benefits and general debt. Further information on contacting Citizens Advice can be found on their Contact us page
- Citizens Advice: Northern Ireland signposts to other organisations who can help with advice on tax credits, benefits and general debt. Further information on contacting Citizens Advice Northern Ireland can be found on their Contact us page
- Advice NI If you live in Northern Ireland you can also contact Advice NI for help with on a range of issues, including tax credits, tax, benefits and debt. Advice NI have a special web page for those needing help with tax and benefits
- Advicelocal This is a local guide to help with benefits, work, money, housing problems and more. For further information, visit Advicelocal
Legal or financial advice
Often when dealing with tax and benefits matters, you find you need other kinds of professional help. You might need legal advice, for example. As this need often arises when dealing with the affairs of someone who has died, we explain separately how to find a solicitor or other appropriate adviser.
You might also need to get help from a qualified financial adviser on some things. One example would be when thinking about putting money into, or taking money out of, a pension. The Financial Conduct Authority website provides some guidance on how to find a financial adviser.