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HMRC internal manual

Compliance Handbook

Data gathering, penalties: reasonable excuse: reliance on another person

Where a data-holder has asked somebody else to do something on their behalf, that data-holder is responsible for ensuring that the other person carries out the task. They cannot claim they had a reasonable excuse merely because they delegated the task to a third party and that third party failed to complete it.

We expect the data-holder to take reasonable care to explain to the third party what they require them to do, to set deadlines for the work and to make regular checks on progress, reminding where appropriate. We expect the data-holder

  • to be able to tell us what action they took to ensure that the data-holder notice was complied with, and
  • normally, but not always, to know the reason why the failure occurred.

If the data-holder does this and still fails to comply with the data-holder notice because the third party failed, they may have a reasonable excuse. However, the data-holder must remedy the failure without unreasonable delay after the excuse has ended, see CH29680.


We issued a data-holder notice to Peter Harvey, an auctioneer, for him to provide relevant data. Mr Harvey failed to provide the data by the date specified in the notice. He claims that he asked his accountant to provide the data that we requested and his accountant let him down. To determine whether Mr Harvey has a reasonable excuse you will need to find out what instructions Mr Harvey gave to his accountant, and the reasons why the accountant failed to comply with the notice.

Remember that there is no statutory definition of ‘reasonable’ or ‘unreasonable’. Each case must be judged on its own merits in view of the data-holder’s abilities and circumstances, see CH29620 and CH29630.

FA11/SCH23/PARA34 (2)(b)