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HMRC internal manual

Senior Accounting Officer Guidance

In what circumstances is a penalty chargeable: discussing a penalty - confidentiality

It is important to identify the person who is liable to any penalty.

Penalties on the company

If a company is liable to a penalty for failing to notify the name of a Senior Accounting Officer (SAO), you must only discuss that penalty with the appropriate person in the company or with the company’s agent if the company has authorised us to deal with them. It is of course possible that the SAO will also be representing the company in such discussions.

Penalties on the SAO

If an SAO is liable to a penalty, you must only discuss that penalty with the SAO concerned. You must not discuss it with any other company personnel or the company’s agent or tell the company that a penalty has been charged on the SAO. Even if you find out that the SAO has made the company aware that they have been charged a penalty you must not take this as an authority to be able to discuss this with the company. Indeed you must refuse to do so unless the SAO gives you specific authority to the contrary.

Note that the restrictions described above do not necessarily apply to limit our ability to gather information from the company relevant to the chargeability of the SAO penalty. You may also disclose information regarding the SAO penalty to the company for the purpose of gathering information to support our defence of an appeal against an SAO penalty, provided you disclose no more than is necessary to obtain the relevant information.

In some cases, the SAO will have left the company. It may even be that the new SAO (or the company itself) alleges failures by the former SAO which could lead to a penalty. In this situation, it is likely you will be reliant on evidence provided by the company when seeking a penalty on the former SAO.

In summary, it should rarely be necessary to disclose to a company that you have charged a penalty on the SAO or intend to do so. However evidence obtained from the company may be used in SAO certification or in main duty penalty proceedings.