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HMRC internal manual

Inheritance Tax Manual

Communications: Personal applicants: writing effective letters to personal applicants

When you write to a Personal Applicant (PA) you must try to make sure that they understand what you are saying. This means taking time to think about

  • the points you are trying to make, and
  • the questions you still need answers to

Many PAs would not want to receive a letter written in the style we might use when dealing with agents.

  • With agents we can use technical or legal terms that both sides understand. This is inappropriate for the majority of PAs
  • You should give an explanation if you are dealing with a topic that is unlikely to be covered by most people’s general knowledge

You should avoid impersonal language, especially when writing to PAs. The best way to do this is to use the active voice in your letters. It will help to understand this if you look at two alternative ways of expressing the same idea

  • The caseworker sent the calculation to the executor
  • The calculation was sent to the executor by the caseworker

In the first sentence the action of sending was done by the subject, the caseworker. In the second sentence the action of sending was done to the subject, in this case the calculation. So when you use the active voice you are doing something. The alternative is to use the passive voice, which means the subject having something done to it.

If you use the active voice your letters sound more personal.

However, there are times when the passive voice is more appropriate because it sounds neutral. For example

  • ‘the schedule was not enclosed’ rather than
  • ‘you did not enclose the schedule’.

It may sound better if you use the passive voice when setting out the legal position. For example

  • ‘agricultural relief is not available’ rather than
  • ‘I have not allowed agricultural relief’.

You should use plain English and give full explanations of any technical or difficult points. If you are sending a form or account for the PA to complete, add a note asking them to call you if they need any help with this.

If the PA asks for help:

  • complete such parts of the form as you can in pencil, and
  • show which parts need to be completed.