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HMRC internal manual

Compliance Handbook

Litigation and settlement strategy: handling a dispute: seeking specialist advice

HMRC’s manuals provide guidance on technical and operational matters but you may need specialist advice in complex cases. You should seek that advice as early as possible so that

  • we can assess the strength of our position and the likelihood that we will win should the dispute need to be resolved in a tribunal
  • if our arguments are not strong we can withdraw from the dispute as soon as possible
  • we can identify at an early stage any specific policy issues, questions where specific information is needed to determine facts, or issues that could impact other cases, and then take appropriate further advice and inform relevant stakeholders
  • if we have a strong case, we can direct enquiries towards the areas of most value.

You will generally need to get the relevant facts, see CH40750, quickly so that you can ask for an early specialist opinion. However, it may not always be obvious what the relevant facts are and you may need to seek specialist advice to help direct your fact finding.

If obtaining specialist advice affects an agreed timetable, see CH40740, you should tell the person as soon as possible and agree an amended timetable.

No single piece of specialist advice is necessarily decisive in determining HMRC’s position. However, where advice sets out HMRC’s view of the treatment that may be applicable in other cases too, you should normally follow it in order to ensure even-handed treatment. Where there is any doubt about how to proceed in the light of the advice, relevant facts and circumstances, this should be discussed amongst the HMRC stakeholders who are involved in the case and, where necessary, escalated to senior managers for a view or decision on the way forward.

You must ensure that any advice you rely on is up to date and based on all potentially relevant facts. So you may need further specialist advice where

  • the dispute has been ongoing for some time and specialist advice was obtained early in the dispute
  • further potentially relevant facts have come to light
  • new technical arguments are put forward
  • it appears that a specific new fact, which was not considered by the specialist, is critical to the analysis, or
  • there are further relevant developments in the law relating to the particular issue that is in dispute (for example, a new tribunal or court decision).