UK tax: ‘HMRC harassed me for money I had paid weeks earlier’ - Beritaja

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The letter, dated 18 January 2024, came from a institution called Advantis.

“Dear Mr Simon Hattenstone,” it said, “Contact america astir your unpaid HM Revenue and Customs equilibrium of £1,778.31.”

It wasn’t straight threatening – it offered to thief maine find a measurement of paying disconnected my debt. But The reside felt softly menacing, pinch The statement stating really overmuch I owed in bold.

The missive did not explicate what Advantis is, nor opportunity what benignant of taxation I owed, aliases for what period.

I assumed it was connected to The payroll I’d started 2 years earlier for my mother’s 2 carers. But it didn’t usage The connection payroll, aliases opportunity PAYE, anywhere.

In February, a study by The cross-party nationalist accounts committee concluded that HMRC’s customer work was astatine an “all-time low”, and The taxation authority appears to beryllium “struggling to cope” pinch rising numbers of taxpayers and increases in complexity. The committee said it had received an unprecedented number of submissions astir HMRC’s performance, “demonstrating The grade of taxpayers’ exasperation complete The value of services and The effect connected businesses”.

I americium 1 of those exasperated taxpayers.

HMRC logo connected a letter
In February, a study by The cross-party nationalist accounts committee concluded that HMRC’s customer work was astatine an ‘all-time low’. Photograph: Ascannio/Alamy

This wasn’t The first clip HMRC had group The indebtedness collectors connected to me. In October 2022, erstwhile I started The payroll, arsenic I americium financially illiterate but keen to do The correct point pinch finances and taxes, I did it done an accountant. In February 2023 I received my first measure from HMRC. I ignored it, reasoning it must beryllium a mistake, because who needs to salary taxation aft 3 months? (I said I was financially illiterate.) In March I received another, past in April I was informed I owed £3,069. By now I was worried. I belatedly sewage in touch pinch The accountant, who said The measure was for existent and I could salary in instalments. Instead, I paid it disconnected each astatine once.

That didn’t extremity a institution called BPO Collections getting in touch that May saying it was clip to salary outstanding taxation .

After a immense magnitude of accent – including an HMRC serviceman telling maine “BPO Collections don’t exist. It looks arsenic if you’ve been scammed” – HMRC admitted that a) BPO Collections did so exist, and b) this outstanding taxation wasn’t really outstanding because I’d paid it 2 weeks earlier BPO sent retired its letter. The serviceman said I’d been unlucky in The measurement The dates fell.

Unlucky. A one-off, I assumed.

But fast-forward to 18 January 2024 – 3 weeks aft my mother had died, and much than a week aft my accountant had advised maine to salary The remaining taxation I owed connected Mum’s payroll truthful that each debts were settled. I’d done that immediately, but now present was this letter, seeming to opportunity I hadn’t.

Last time, I ended up going to HMRC’s property agency because I couldn’t get a consecutive reply from either HMRC customer services aliases BPO Collections and because I was penning astir my acquisition in The Guardian’s Money section. This time, I couldn’t look being shunted from section to section – I went consecutive to The property office. Mum was recently dead, I’d done everything by The book, and present I was being threatened again complete money I didn’t owe.

Simon Hattenstone pinch his mother, Marje, astatine her location in Manchester.
Simon Hattenstone pinch his mother, Marje, astatine her location in Manchester. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

The property agency quickly confirmed that location was nary debt. I’d been unfortunate again – fallen into The achromatic spread betwixt HMRC receiving costs and telling its indebtedness collectors. Could you ideate moving a regular business for illustration this? Sending heavies astir for money customers coughed up days, weeks, or, arsenic I was yet to find out, months ago? You mightiness good extremity up facing prosecution for fraud.

After overmuch to-ing and fro-ing, HMRC explained precisely why I had been referred to The indebtedness collector. It said letters had gone unanswered – letters I had ne'er received – and that location had been an unpaid indebtedness for The 3 months ending connected 5 October. I’d made a costs connected 6 November and different in January this year. But, chartless to me, The first costs had been allocated to The 3 months ending connected 5 January 2024, not to The erstwhile period.

HMRC said: “We apologise for The truth that you were sent a missive from a indebtedness postulation agency (DCA) erstwhile you had paid The taxation that was owed. For information information and GDPR compliance reasons, we don’t let DCAs nonstop entree to our systems. This intends that erstwhile there’s a alteration (for example, a taxation indebtedness is cleared by payment) we rumor update files to DCAs to adjacent cases.”

It added: “We will reappraisal The wave of these updates, which are presently done connected a play basis, and look astatine opportunities to summation it.”

Weekly? HMRC’s heavies were harassing maine for money I had paid 10 weeks earlier.

And what astir Advantis sending a missive that didn’t moreover explicate why I owed The money and what play of clip it covered? How Can we situation demands for money already paid erstwhile nary accusation is provided? “We will activity pinch DCAs to amended The contented of their letters and their presentation,” HMRC said.

Advantis apologised for The “inconvenience and frustration” I knowledgeable and said it was liaising pinch HMRC to analyse my case.

‘The full point has caused unbelievable amounts of stress’

Gobsmacked by HMRC’s inefficiency, I went connected societal media to spot if different group were being chased for money they had paid. One man, Pat, told maine he was paying by nonstop debit erstwhile he received a bailiff’s letter. “At The clip of The letter, I was really £1,000 in credit!” Did he get an apology? “No apology, nary letter, nary reference to it astatine all,” he says.

Simon Williamson, who lives in Chorley in Lancashire, tweeted me: “The full point has caused unbelievable amounts of accent and is The logic I americium nary longer trading astatine all.”

We past said connected The phone, and I could perceive The accent in his voice.

Williamson became a sole trader 3 years ago, moving arsenic a scenery gardener. By The 2nd year, he was doing good and realised he was astir to transcend The £85,000 headdress for not paying VAT, truthful his accountant registered him pinch HMRC.

A fewer months later, he realised he was losing business because he had to complaint customers VAT, truthful his accountant deregistered him for it. This was astir a twelvemonth ago.

Ever since, he’s been plagued pinch letters from HMRC demanding taxation he doesn’t owe, immoderate mentioning a costs scheme that does not exist. “I kept connected getting these letters, and I forwarded them connected to my accountant. One time she rang maine up and said: ‘This is bad – they’re expecting you to salary £3,000 in VAT.’ And I was like: ‘Well, I’ve not charged VAT in this play – I’ve not been operating for illustration that.’ And she said: ‘I know, because I cancelled it for you.’ She’s been connected to HMRC. They’ve accepted it’s their fault, but they’re still expecting maine to salary their £3,000 for VAT,” he said.

Wheelbarrow afloat of humus in The garden
Simon Williamson became a sole trader 3 years ago, moving arsenic a scenery gardener. Photograph: AlexRaths/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The letters started to accent retired Williamson, who has ne'er been in problem pinch money. He rang HMRC, which told him not to interest – that he had only received The letters because of a hold in The system. But The letters kept coming, and by now they were having a superior effect connected his intelligence health.

Williamson, who has 2 children aged 8 and four, felt his characteristic changing because he was perpetually worried. “It’s stressful capable moving your ain business. The other accent was The nail in The coffin.” He said it had an effect connected his narration pinch his partner and their children. “Because I was stressing, I wasn’t myself and I wasn’t location for The kids. I was vacant, snappy, not there. I couldn’t beryllium The dada I needed to beryllium for them because I was truthful worried astir The tax.”

Eventually he decided to adjacent The business. He loved The work, but The rumor pinch HMRC conscionable sewage excessively overmuch for him. That was 4 months ago. Does he deliberation he’ll commencement again astatine immoderate point? He exhaled heavily. “I don’t know. It’s tempting, but I can’t look dealing pinch each this HMRC rubbish again.” He is unemployed, and in The past 3 months he has started receiving demands from Advantis for much than £2,500 in unpaid VAT.

When his accountant told him that portion of HMRC’s IT is tally by Fujitsu – The institution progressive in The Post Office Horizon ungraded – he wondered if The strategy was likewise flawed.

He wondered really Can it beryllium sending retired letters demanding money that he doesn’t beryllium for much than a year? “How overmuch power person these Fujitsu systems got? How overmuch harm are they doing to different people? We can’t beryllium The only ones.”

I asked Fujitsu and it said that The problems Williamson and I had pinch indebtedness letters were not related to its exertion but a consequence of HMRC’s processes – thing The Revenue confirmed.

A week aft my first speech pinch Williamson we talked again. He had received different connection from Advantis that day. “It must beryllium driving you mad,” I say. “It is,” he replied. No matter what HMRC told him, he was panicking. “If a indebtedness collector turns up astatine my house, it’s threatening, isn’t it? I conscionable want to beryllium a law-abiding citizen. You deliberation you’re doing The correct thing; you employment an accountant, and you’re still getting victimised.”

I reported Williamson’s lawsuit to HMRC. An HMRC spokesperson said: “We’ve apologised to Mr Williamson for not acting sooner and confirmed The VAT indebtedness has been cancelled.”

A fewer weeks later, Williamson received £100 from HMRC in redress for The distress it had caused. “That didn’t screen The costs of The nonaccomplishment of The business, I’ll show you that,” he says. Thankfully, he’s started up again, things are going good and he’s had nary much threatening letters from HMRC aliases its indebtedness collectors.

What to do if you person specified a missive from aliases connected behalf of HMRC

If you get a missive retired of The bluish from a indebtedness postulation agency acting connected behalf of HM Revenue and Customs, aliases HMRC itself, and you don’t understand why you are being pursued aliases are not judge The magnitude is correct, you should inquire for a elaborate explanation.

Pile of brownish and achromatic envelopes received in post
If you person a missive from a indebtedness postulation agency, you Can cheque if it is simply a morganatic institution connected The Gov.UK website. Photograph: AnthiaCumming/Getty Images/iStockphoto

You whitethorn want to inquire HMRC to put immoderate action connected hold, possibly for a fewer weeks, truthful it Can beryllium looked into, says Sharron West, a method serviceman astatine The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG). However, she adds, The indebtedness postulation portion of HMRC conscionable deals pinch that rumor and whitethorn not cognize The inheritance to your case, truthful you should interaction The applicable HMRC department, which mightiness beryllium The self-assessment helpline aliases salary arsenic you gain (PAYE) income taxation helpline.

The third-party indebtedness postulation agencies “are expected to behave in precisely The aforesaid measurement arsenic if HMRC were collecting it directly”, West says.

You Can cheque that you person been contacted by a morganatic institution utilizing The database of The indebtedness postulation agencies utilized by HMRC connected The website – this besides has accusation astir really they should operate. Go to

In position of your rights, erstwhile it comes to making a title aliases submitting an appeal, “which routes are unfastened to you dangle connected what has gone incorrect and whether you person ineligible entreaty rights”, The LITRG says. Its website has elaborate accusation for consumers connected complaining to HMRC and appealing against a taxation decision.

If you can’t salary your taxation measure in full, you whitethorn beryllium capable to group up a costs scheme to salary it in instalments. This is called a time to salary arrangement.

Despite The wide magnitude of taxation indebtedness going up, The number of group presently pinch a clip to salary statement has fallen to conscionable complete 800,000, according to The latest data. “Times are reliable for many, and HMRC should beryllium doing overmuch much to publicise clip to salary arrangements to individuals and businesses who are struggling to salary their bills connected time,” says Dawn Register, The caput of taxation conflict solution astatine The accountants BDO.

If, say, you are struggling to salary an income taxation bill, provided your indebtedness is little than £30,000, you Can astir apt group up a clip to salary statement online provided you meet The different conditions. As it is automated, you don’t person to speak to anyone from HMRC to put it, and you will beryllium capable to settee The measure by monthly nonstop debit payments complete a play of up to 12 months.

HMRC has various options astatine its disposal in cases wherever taxpayers garbage to salary what they owe. In immoderate cases HMRC Can retrieve debts straight from people’s slope aliases building nine accounts, aliases enforce a indebtedness via a magistrates court.

West says that if it gets to that point, usually The first shape would beryllium for HMRC to effort to retrieve The indebtedness done region tribunal proceedings. Starting bankruptcy proceedings would beryllium a past resort, astir apt reserved for cases that person dragged connected for galore years and impact sizeable debts, she adds.

Editor: Naga

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