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HMRC internal manual

Enquiry Manual

Working the Enquiry: Meetings: General Points

Meetings are not easy. You have to judge whether you are being told the truth and be alert to follow up unexpected points.

  • The taxpayer may be nervous. That need not be a sign that there is anything wrong with the return. For many people the world of offices, figures and forms is unfamiliar, and the prospect of meeting a tax official quite daunting. You should recognise that this may be the case. Try to avoid any words or actions which are likely to produce an exaggerated response. You are not there to trick the taxpayer. Attempt to put him or her at ease. You want to obtain facts, which will be easier if the person is relaxed. Explain why you have asked for the meeting. Start off with those areas which are familiar to the taxpayer, such as the general running of the business.
  • Usually, you should consider the taxpayer’s standard of living and private assets. Questions about these are bound to be sensitive - would you like to tell a stranger about your personal spending habits? Be ready to explain why it is necessary - as a cross-check on the figures shown by the returns or accounts. Under the Human Rights Act 1998 (Article 8) any interference with a person’s rights of privacy must be in accordance with the law and proportionate to your aim EM1355+.
  • Be tactful in your questioning. Ask initially about life-style in general terms before attempting to quantify individual items.
  • (This content has been withheld because of exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act 2000)
  • Whilst you must always be courteous in your dealings with the taxpayer and his or her agent, you must obtain the information which you need. If you fail to do so you will not be any nearer checking the return for completeness. Another meeting will be necessary, with the attendant costs to all concerned. You must therefore be firm and ensure that you do find out what you need to know. You have a statutory right to enquire into a return.
  • Taxpayers do get upset at meetings. It can be a reaction to nervousness, to what they feel is too personal a line of questioning or because you are getting close to discovering understatements. Sometimes aggressive behaviour might be an attempt to provoke you. If you lose your temper you will probably lose control of the meeting. If a taxpayer launches an angry tirade, or bursts into tears, wait until they have regained some control. A few minutes break may be a good idea before you try to resume your questions as sympathetically as possible.
  • Abuse and threats should not be tolerated. Should a taxpayer threaten violence or even try to start it, you should end the meeting immediately. Make a full note as soon as possible and report the incident following the guidance about how to report a Health & Safety incident.
  • Your relationship with an accountant or other agent can be difficult during a meeting. The agent may try to answer all or some of the questions on behalf of their client. Explain that the purpose of the meeting is to obtain facts which only the taxpayer knows.
  • You should not underestimate the strain meetings can put on relationships between agent and client. The taxpayer may feel that the agent has let him or her down, or not done the job properly. If, however, they have done a reasonable job, there is no harm done in telling the taxpayer that it is not the way the agent has constructed the accounts, or completed the return, which is under consideration, but the figures that went into them.
  • When you have exhausted all the questions you want to ask, it is a good idea to give the taxpayer a chance to add anything he or she wants. Is there anything which has not been covered which he or she thinks relevant to the points discussed? (This content has been withheld because of exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act 2000)