Working the enquiry: meetings: preparing for the meeting - attendance at the meeting
How do I overcome resistance to attending meetings?
It is not unusual to meet resistance to attending a face to face meeting from either taxpayer or accountant. Some common reasons include:
- Meetings are costly, in terms of the taxpayer’s lost time, the fees charged by the accountant & travelling time. For this reason alone you should never ask for a meeting unless it is necessary.
- For many people, including those whose returns are complete and correct, a meeting with `officialdom’ is a daunting prospect.
- Anyone who is understating their income will probably feel less comfortable answering questions at face to face to face meetings, than by correspondence or on the phone.
Ultimately you do not have a power to compel a taxpayer or accountant to attend a face to face meeting. You should however try to convince the taxpayer and their agent of the advantages of having a meeting by
- explaining that meetings can actually reduce the costs and length of an enquiry, because a meeting can avoid prolonged correspondence
explaining why you want to meet with the taxpayer. You need to be clear that
- you are entitled to enquire into the taxpayer’s return,
- you need information from the taxpayer, and
- in the absence of co-operation, you will still pursue your enquiry
- confirming to the agent that you will provided a copy of the notes of the meeting and they will be able to correct any misunderstanding of what was said
- explaining how a meeting may help resolve the issues you want to discuss.
You should also consider whether a face to face meeting is required or whether the same result could be achieved through a telephone conference or a video conference if these facilities are available.
Should I invite the taxpayer’s agent to the meeting?
If the taxpayer has an agent they should be invited to attend a face to face or video meeting. A meeting should only proceed without the agent if the agent has declined to attend or the taxpayer wishes to proceed without the agent.
If the taxpayer wishes to have a meeting without their agent, you discuss the advantages of having the agent present. If the taxpayer still wishes to proceed without the agent, you must tell the agent as soon as possible after the meeting has occurred and the substance of what was discussed, unless the taxpayer does not want you to do so.
When an agent is present, they may try to answer questions on their client’s behalf. Unless it is about the work done by the agent or a technical issue, you should be clear that you need to hear what the taxpayer has to say, as they will be best placed to explain how they run the business and about their private financial affairs. Tell the agent firmly but courteously, that whilst you appreciate that they are there to protect their client’s interests, the purpose of the meeting is to hear from the taxpayer directly. It is only the taxpayer who has the necessary first-hand knowledge.
This does not mean that you should stop the agent from asking the taxpayer to clarify any answer they give you.
What about unrepresented taxpayers?
If the taxpayer does not have professional help you will have to ensure that they are kept informed of the options available at each stage of the enquiry. It may be desirable at the meeting to actually go through our explanatory factsheets, ensuring that the taxpayer understands what they say. You should therefore make sure you are prepared for this explanation.
Any proposals for settlement should be clearly set out and explained to the taxpayer. Apart from taking extra care over communication, your conduct of the enquiry and your proposals put forward should not be different whether or not there is an agent acting for the taxpayer.
You should also make sure that you are familiar with HMRC’s guidance on what support is available for disabled or vulnerable taxpayers, see COG11300. This is in case the taxpayer needs additional support for an issue that emerges during the meeting that HMRC was previously unaware of. If you are aware of any reasonable adjustments that are needed to assist the taxpayer, you should ensure that they are in place at the meeting.
Should I hold a separate meeting with an agent or bookkeeper?
Meeting with a business’s book-keeper or accountant may also be valuable in understanding how the records were built up and link together and how the accounts have been prepared. In some cases a meeting with the book-keeper or accountant may enable you to resolve issues without troubling the taxpayer.
Sometimes you arrange a meeting with the taxpayer and their agent but at the last minute the taxpayer will not be able to attend.
In such circumstances you have the choice of either seeing the accountant alone or re-arranging the meeting.
You will no doubt have spent some time preparing for the meeting and will have questions which require the taxpayer being present to answer. Unless you believe that there are specific technical issues which you can resolve with the agent, it will normally be better to simply rearrange the meeting for a later date when both can be present.