Working the enquiry: meetings: spouses, civil partners and domestic partners
In any full enquiry, even if it is conducted on business economics lines, you will need to consider private assets and possibly spending. Your review is unlikely to be complete without involving your taxpayer’s spouse, civil partner or domestic partner. Apart from the inevitable financial inter-dependence, there may be taxation advantages in transferring income or assets. If you have full co-operation and agreement there will not be any problem discussing the tax affairs of one with the other, but if you do not have authority to do so you must be very careful not to breach confidentiality. You should bear the following points in mind.
- If you arrange a meeting with both parties, and you wish to discuss their personal spending, income or assets you should make this clear in advance. Each has a right to privacy, and so you should ask that they attend together if they are prepared to discuss these matters in front of one another. If they are not you will have to see them separately.
- Their verbal agreement to discuss matters openly will be sufficient but such agreement should always be recorded fully in the notes of meeting. However, there may be occasions, probably comparatively rare, when you feel that signed authorities EM1854 will be useful. Such authorities cover general discussion of assets, trading, spending etc.
- If the spouse or partner is unrepresented you should write to them separately asking for a meeting. Your letter to the party who is not under enquiry should state what may be discussed, but should not state explicitly that there is an enquiry. Say something like `matters connected with your spouse’s or partner’s tax affairs’. The letters should ask whether they will be prepared to attend a joint meeting at which their personal finances are discussed, as this will save a great deal of time.
- If you do have to hold separate meetings you must beware of breaching the confidentiality of either party. You should not, for instance, mention anything about a spouse’s or partner’s business to the taxpayer unless it is directly relevant to the liability of the taxpayer under enquiry.
- Even if you have an agreement to a joint discussion, if any matter arises which you feel may be sensitive, you should clear it with the particular partner before disclosing to the other.
- When a spouse, civil partner, or domestic partner arrives unexpectedly at a meeting, you should explain to both parties their rights to confidentiality and ask whether they are prepared to discuss all matters in front of one another. If they are unwilling to do so you will have to see them separately.
Further guidance on confidentiality can be found at EM1853.