Opening the Enquiry: Information Request: Time to Respond
You should normally ask informally for information you need at every stage of the enquiry before you consider the use of information powers, see EM1551).
CH23540 explains in detail when you can use information and inspection powers to check the position of self-assessment taxpayers.
Normally you should not issue a notice under FA08/Sch36/Para1 unless the taxpayer has refused to co-operate with an informal request for information, or has failed to produce some or all of that information within the time shown in the informal request. You should consider whether Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) may help you and the taxpayer resolve any disputes about the documents or information you have requested. See the ADR web pages for guidance about ADR.
It is however your responsibility to take proactive and effective action to progress cases and to prevent delay.
Your opening letter of the enquiry should contain an informal request for information and should state the date by which it should be produced. You are encouraged to agree a time limit for response (normally 30 days as a minimum) but you should show a flexible approach where warranted. You could allow a longer time if, for example
- the taxpayer is known to be abroad, or to be incapacitated in circumstances which will prevent compliance within 30 days
- you have requested a final figure to replace a provisional one included in the return, and you know it cannot be supplied within 30 days
As well as the flexible approach above, HMRC has also agreed to allow more time when any requests are made to an agent in December or January during the agent’s peak work period before the 31 January filing date. If you open the enquiry in the period from 1 December to 20 December you should allow an extra week to the time limit. If you open the enquiry in the period from 21 December to 31 January you should allow an extra two weeks.
You should make a note of the reason why you allow a longer time.
You should always state the date by which the information is to be provided. Do not use vague expressions such as `as soon as possible’, `at your earliest convenience’, and so on.
You should aim to make the information requested in the initial letter as precise and comprehensive as possible and you should normally only request information which could be included in a notice under FA08/Sch36. You will not be able to identify at this initial stage all the information that you may require over the course of the enquiry. You should nevertheless review each case thoroughly to arrive at a comprehensive assessment of the information likely to be needed to check the return. You should include all this information in your initial request.
In some cases you may wish to ask to see the information at the taxpayer’s premises EM1830. If so, you should set out your proposals in the opening letter, making it clear that this is subject to the taxpayer’s agreement.
You should follow the general principle that information should be requested informally in the first instance at all stages of the enquiry. Guidance on the formal use of FA08/Sch36/ Para1 to obtain information is at CH23500+.
You may sometimes consider that the information you need can be more conveniently obtained at a meeting with the taxpayer or over the telephone. This approach may be appropriate in the case of an unrepresented taxpayer, or where the information needed is fairly limited and straightforward (usually, an aspect enquiry). There is no objection to you adopting this approach in suitable cases, either at the commencement of the enquiry or at any subsequent stage, as long as you remember that you must always issue a formal written notice of intention to enquire at the outset of the enquiry. And if you are unable to obtain the information over the telephone or in person, you will have to follow up your original request in writing. In these circumstances you should normally write to the taxpayer informally requesting the information, and only issue a notice under Schedule 36 later if the information is not forthcoming.
It would not normally be appropriate to request extensive information over the telephone in a full enquiry.