Thursday, December 4, 2008

HMRC no longer allowed to take taxpayer papers to meetings

I read about this in Taxation magazine and didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Accountants have long recognised the logistical and psychological advantages that come from meeting with Inspectors of Taxes at the accountant's office. This is in preference to attending meetings at the Inspector's office. Historically Inspectors' have been quite relaxed about this and some of them even understood that it was more cost effective for the accountant and the client. Why should they have to pay for their accountant to travel to see the Inspector?

Plus of course with the closure of so many local offices means it's often wholly impractical for the accountant to go to see HMRC.

It seems that there's a new factor to take into account now. Do you want the Inspector to be able to refer to his papers? If you insist on having the meeting at your office the Inspector may arrive without bringing the taxpayer's file with him (or her). This is going to hamper their ability to negotiate by reference to the facts and information on their files unless they have exceptionally good memories.

The story in Taxation magazine is on their letters (feedback) page where a reader reports that officers from SCIO travelled from Widnes to London for a second meeting without the taxpayer's files. It lasted only 15 minutes with most points agreed in the taxpayer's favour.

This is what HMRC said to Taxation magazine:
"Taxpayer files are more than likely to contain restricted information. Staff are instructed to:
  • Never take data outside of the office unless they really need to.
  • Keep official papers secure at all times.
  • Never leave them unattended.
Taking files out of an office would need the approval of the appropriate Data Guardian. Tax files are official papers and should be looked after in a manner commensurate with the protective marking applied to them.

All staff are required to attend a data security workshop, have been issued with a Data Security Handbook, and information on data securoty is regualroly published on the internet.

Given the diversity of activity undertaken by HMRC, instructions are by necessity generic.

Staff who breech the rules will face conduct and disciplinary proceedings."

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