Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What sort of tax authority do you want?

I have long enjoyed reading the writings of Robert Maas, that doyen of the tax world whom I am also proud to call a friend. It was he who first got me involved in the LSCA and ICAEW Tax committees and who persuaded me to remain active in the tax profession when I considered moving on in 2001.

In addition to his prodigious published output Robert has also been blogging online about tax matters for even longer than me. He has just published the fourth of what may be a sadly lengthy series of pieces under the title: "What sort of tax authority do you want?"

It feels pretentious to say this but I hope that by referencing the series here it will get an even wider audience - as it deserves.

In the 'Journals of Robert Maas' this series highlights a number of tax cases. Each of them shows HMRC in a poor light. Or as Robert puts it:
"it intrigues me that HMRC felt it worth the damage to their reputation to take the cases before the Tribunal."
In the fourth of his series Robert highlights the following 3 cases:
  • Cameron v HMRC - where the taxpayer was effectively penalised for getting his tax return in early;
  • Wessex Continental Travel Co Ltd v HMRC - A VAT officer gave misleading advice and HMRC did not comply with it's Charter obligations to "Help and support you to get things right”.
  • Chamberlain v HMRC - HMRC argued to bankrupt a professional person who they knew the legislation had not intended to tax.
The first blog post in the series focused on the case of R (on the application of Valentines Homes & Construction Ltd) v HMRC. In his commentary on this case Robert's challenges included:
Is that the sort of tax authority you want? One that gleefully puts a pregnant woman under the stress of believing that they intend to collect tax in excess of that decreed by parliament and then at the latest possible date, just before the Court hearing, say that they don’t intend to do so after all. It is not the sort that I want.
Is that the sort of tax authority that you want? One that seeks to avoid payment of a reasonable claim by taking technical legal points rather than approaching the claim on its merits – and in order to do so seems happy to wash in public what seems to be very dirty linen indeed. As both a citizen and a taxpayer, it is not the sort of tax authority that I want.
You get the idea.

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