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HMRC internal manual

Compliance Handbook

Charging Penalties: Establishing penalty behaviour: How to ask questions: Listening skills

You should always remember that the purpose of the questions you are asking is to gather evidence about how the inaccuracy, failure or wrongdoing occurred and this may have to be presented to a reviewing officer or tribunal. It is therefore important to ensure that you have correctly understood the answers to your questions.

This means that it is not always sufficient simply to listen and record the answers. You should be able to demonstrate and prove that you understand what you have been told. Two relatively straightforward ways of doing this are by summarising what you have been told and by asking for clarification.


This should be done at relatively frequent intervals during the discussion. You should read a short summary of what you have been told so far to the person. This can be prefaced by phrases such as “so you are saying”, “in other words”, or “have I got this right?”.


  • Have I got this right? You checked with your accountant who said you should have included your tips as business income but you did not follow his advice.
  • So you are saying that you copied the wrong figures because you were distracted by an employee?

Asking for clarification

You should normally ask for clarification of any points that could be ambiguous. The technique can also be used as a summarising technique. You can ask for clarification by simply asking “can I just clarify?” or “can I just check what you mean?”.


  • Can I just clarify what you mean when you say it was a misunderstanding? What was it exactly that you did not understand?
  • Can I just check, was it your accountant who told you to treat this in this way?