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HMRC internal manual

Compliance Handbook

Agent operational guidance: dishonest tax agents: getting access to an agent's files: informal approach

When you decide that you need to see a tax agent’s files you must first make an informal approach for them. You may also require information that may not be included in the files.

An informal approach allows you to discuss with the person who holds the documents you require

  • what it is that you want to see
  • the periods you want the documents to cover
  • when and where you want the documents given to you
  • what form the documents should take.

The document-holder can then tell you how much material there is, where and how it is stored and how long it would take to comply with your request to see it. You can also discuss with the document-holder the length of time you might need to keep the material.

An informal approach also gives you the opportunity to remind the document-holder that it is an offence to conceal documents once a conduct notice has been issued, see CH182180.

It is important not to ask for more material than you need to find out the full extent of the

  • tax agent’s dishonest conduct
  • tax lost.

Where the document-holder is not the tax agent, perhaps because the tax agent’s files are with a firm the agent no longer works for, they can appeal against a file access notice on the grounds that it would be unduly onerous to comply with it. This means that the cost in time and money of complying with the notice would be unreasonably burdensome in relation to the benefit we expect from seeing the documents.

You must not overburden any document-holder with requests for documents that you do not need to see. Your request must be reasonable and proportionate to the tax at risk and the extent of the dishonest conduct.

The document-holder may tell you that they cannot give you the documents and information you want without the issue of a formal notice, for example, because they are breaching client confidentiality. You must issue a formal notice in these cases.

If, for any other reason, your informal approach does not get you what you need to progress your case, you will have to issue a file access notice or an information notice. Technical guidance about file access notices starts at CH182520, and operational guidance at CH882500. There is more guidance about asking for information when you are investigating a tax agent’s dishonest conduct at CH882400.