Steps to follow
If you’re unhappy with HMRC’s service – eg unreasonable delay, an avoidable mistake, or how you’ve been treated – first talk to the person or office you’ve been dealing with.
If you’re not satisfied with their response, ask to be referred to the complaints manager for the office. Put your complaint in writing (marking it clearly as a complaint), explaining your issue and what you’d like done about it.
In the letter include: your full name, address, phone number and email address; National Insurance number; relevant HMRC reference numbers; your unique taxpayer reference (UTR) if you’re in self-assessment.
If the matter is still not resolved, refer the complaint to the director in charge of the office responsible.
If you’re still not happy ask the Adjudicator to look into your complaint. The Adjudicator is an independent referee whose service is free. You can complain to the Adjudicator within six months of your final correspondence with the director’s office.
Your next stop would be to ask your MP to refer your case to the Parliamentary Ombudsman or to take up your case with HMRC or Treasury Ministers.
Be warned that the adjudicator won’t consider a complaint if it has been taken up by the Ombudsman; and the Ombudsman will generally not consider a tax or tax credits referral until it has been through the Adjudicator.
If the mistakes or delay by HMRC have cost you money you may be able to claim this back including cash for: postage; phone calls; travelling expenses; professional fees; and financial charges.
HMRC may also cough up extra cash if their mistakes or delays have caused you a lot of worry or distress. An additional payment may be forthcoming if your complaint was handled badly or they took an unreasonable amount of time to deal with it.
Allegations of very serious misconduct by HMRC staff, such as assault or corruption, should be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
If you have an issue with the amount of tax you’ve been charged; a formal HMRC decision; or HMRC seizing anything from you, you need to make a formal appeal to HMRC usually within 30 days of the decision you disagree with (see http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/dealingwith/appeals/directtax.htm).
You’ll need to provide: your name; reference number on the decision letter; the decision/ assessment you’re appealing against; an explanation of your issue; what you think the correct figures are and why.
If your appeal isn’t upheld, you can ask HMRC to review their decision (this will be carried out by someone not involved in the original decision). The review will usually be completed within 45 days and a decision given in writing.
Alternatively, you can ask that your appeal be heard by a specialist tax chamber within the first and second-tier tribunals system. You can also appeal to the tribunal if you’re unhappy with the review officer’s decision. Tribunals appeal forms are available from the Tribunals Service website (Notice of Appeal).
You should take legal advice before going to tribunal and ideally get a tax specialist or lawyer to appeal on your behalf.
What to watch out for
If you made a mistake on your tax return or forgot to claim an allowance you were entitled to and consequently paid too much tax, you can correct your tax return within the first year of filing it. Thereafter you have five years and ten months from the end of the tax year you’re claiming for to claim the money back (although from January 31 2010 this time limit is shortened to four years for self-assessment tax payers).
Solicitor’s top tip
If your complaint is still going through the system when you receive your next demand for payment from HMRC you should still pay it within the time limit - if you stop or delay your payments you may be charged interest or penalties. Even if HMRC gives you permission to put disputed payments on hold you’ll still accrue interest if it turns out you owe the cash after all so it’s best to pay and reclaim rather than have to pay interest.
HM Revenue and Customs
HMRC complaints factsheet
HMRC – dealing with appeals
How to appeal to the tribunal
Citizens Advice Bureau
TaxHelp for Older People
The Tax Team
Overview of personal tax
Do I need a lawyer?