HMRC Agent Account Manager service
HMRC has set up a team of Agent Account Managers (AAMs) to assist agents and advisers to deal with HMRC more easily and effectively.
The AAM team operates a streamlined process to resolve operational problems such as delays in dealing with clients’ affairs - and aims to do this more effectively. You need to register to use AAM services; to do so, please click here.
There are three levels of complaints process. The first is dealt with at HMRC Business Unit and it is its stated policy to attempt to resolve most complaints at this level.
If the complaint is not resolved, the next step is to ask HMRC to look at the complaint again. Another HMRC officer will review the case.
If this second review fails to resolve the matter, the next step is to refer it to the Adjudicator to provide an independent review. The Adjudicator is not an officer of HMRC, but has a service-level agreement with HMRC and operates from an office provided by it. She reviews complaints about:
• unreasonable delays
• poor or misleading advice
• staff behaviour
• unreasonable use of discretion by HMRC.
At a meeting of the Complaints Focus Group, held at HMRC’s office in Parliament Street, London, in December, the following main concerns were highlighted:
• agents generally make their complaint by letter, initially to the case officer, on the basis that if it is not written down, it does not exist. Complaints made by phone do not appear to be recorded correctly. HMRC ignores the areas of complaint in the letter; it should be able to realise that a complaint is being made without a formal complaint being lodged
• no one at HMRC will take responsibility for the complaint
• HMRC takes up to three months to reply and an additional complaint about the delay has to be made. Many complaints take up to three years to resolve, with three months’ response time from HMRC; 20 days should be sufficient
• HMRC appears to be waging a war of attrition, trying to wear out the agent and showing no degree of empathy.
In practice there must be genuine grounds for a complaint; it should not include general grouses at HMRC, or suggestions and observations. Legitimate grounds include straightforward mistakes; these can arise as genuine mistakes or as a result of inadequate training. HMRC staff at all levels are permitted, even encouraged, to apologise in writing. Unfortunately, this is not often seen in practice, although it is often all that is needed, particularly when made direct to the taxpayer.
The response from the Adjudicator is frequently that ‘the correct process has been followed’. The problem is that the process itself may well be wrong.
Redress is available to the taxpayer in the following forms:
• an apology and explanation by HMRC – as noted above, frequently not forthcoming
• a sum paid in recognition of worry and distress caused to the taxpayer by HMRC’s poor administration – often an additional battle
• an ex gratia payment by HMRC to compensate for any financial loss (including costs incurred by the complainant); the average time cost to an agent is usually between £1,000 and £2,000. AAMs are not permitted to deal with a case once a complaint has been made, but their knowledge is invaluable as the work they do on a daily basis is very closely related to a complaint
• HMRC may also write off tax, interest or tax credit repayments if the complaint qualifies for the relevant Extra Statutory Concession.
If HMRC has notified the taxpayer of a liability more than 12 months after the end of the tax year in question and the taxpayer could ‘have reasonably believed’ that his tax affairs were in order, it can mitigate the arrears.
All HMRC letters should be clear, concise, complete, correct and courteous. Self-serve should dramatically reduce the number of complaints from agents. An online form or template would be an improvement to the process but it would be useful if it were prepared in consultation with agents.
There should be just one office dealing with complaints and not one in each strategic office. This should speed up the process for agents making a complaint – the major cause for complaint in itself.