Information Powers: TMA70/S20: Accountant's Working Papers: HMRC Approach
You should not seek access to an accountant’s linking documents as a matter of routine. This is a very sensitive area and it should be approached with great care.
You are most likely to seek access to them within the context of accounts investigations where the records are to be examined and information is required to show how the figures in the accounts were made up.
Initially following an informal approach, you would use S19A or Para 27 powers where appropriate, to obtain the documents or particulars from the taxpayer.
You should only use S20(3) to obtain linking documents from the accountant once you have exhausted all other available means of satisfying yourself that the accounts or returns are complete and correct.
Where papers contain both `linking’ information and audit matters or tax advice, HMRC is entitled to access to the information showing how the entry in the accounts, return or information was arrived at EM10023. There is, however, no entitlement to access to those parts of the papers containing audit information or `relevant communications’ about tax advice. Where an accountant claims protection for part of his papers he can furnish a photocopy or other facsimile of the part which is not protected. If requested, however, he must make the original available for inspection, covering up the protected parts if he wishes.
Normally, limit your request to those parts of the working papers concerning the entries in the accounts, return etc about which you require explanations but there may be cases where you require access to the whole or a substantial part of the working papers.
Advise the accountant that you are willing to visit his office or the taxpayer’s premises to examine the papers and to take copies or extracts.
Complete all the procedures as speedily as possible
- by the use of short BF periods and
- by dealing with the case promptly at each stage.
The powers of access to accountant’s working papers do not override the other protections which apply, for example
- to personal records and journalistic material - Section 20(8C)
- to documents relating to the conduct of an appeal - Section 20B(2)
- to documents covered by legal professional privilege.
The power conferred by TMA70/S20A to call for any working papers relating to any client of a tax accountant are to be used only by Special Civil Investigations. Where penalties under TMA70/S99 may have been incurred, a report should be made to contact link.