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HMRC internal manual

VAT Small and Medium Enterprises Assurance Manual

Introduction to Assurance: approach

In their approach to traders, officers should remember that they may often be the trader’s only official contact with the Department. Helpfulness and displaying understanding of a trader’s problems will considerably influence the trader’s attitude towards their VAT responsibilities and thus contribute to the smooth administration of the tax as a whole. Officers must maintain a professional attitude at all times, in line with the Department’s core values of integrity, impartiality, courtesy and helpfulness.

Officers should be alert to all areas of potential tax loss. Always ask the question “Does what I see reflect the known dealings with the Department and does it impact on areas outside the Department?” Guidance on Departmental and non-Departmental contacts are in VSME5190 of this guidance.

Officers should be critical in their outlook and be ready to adapt themselves to new facts or circumstances. Compliance officers receive a documented account of the sift decision and should treat it as an indicator of the main area of risk and this must be investigated.

However, they should recognise that there may be factors the Risk team could not have anticipated, and be prepared to alter the visit approach according to the circumstances.

Since most visits occur at infrequent intervals there is a special need for officers to assess the credibility of the trader’s records and returns in the light of what they learn about the business. Officers should be alert for any feature that is inconsistent with the apparent nature or volume of the trader’s business.

While they must always be alert for signs of evasion or fraud, officers should not assume that every trader is potentially fraudulent. Most traders will be conscientiously trying to meet their obligations and any irregularities may be no more than misunderstanding or misinterpretation of official requirements. All significant information gained or given should be recorded on EF.