VAT returns phoneline 'won’t cure human rights breach'

The taxman should allow paper filing of VAT returns in some cases or the breach of human rights he caused by not providing exemptions for business people who are old, disabled, disadvantaged or remotely located, will not be cured.

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group sounded this appeal this week, in response to the tax department signalling that improving its telephone service, and publicising it more widely to such VAT-registered business people, will be a sufficient remedy.

“HMRC seem to think that if they improve the telephone service and publicise it more widely, that will be sufficient to cure the breach; but quite frankly it will not,” said the group’s chairman Anthony Thomas.

“They cannot simply rewrite the judgment to suit their own agenda, or wish for a different outcome.”

His comments relate to the judgement against HMRC stating that the telephone filing service was an unlawful concession, as it had not been properly published, therefore it could not heal the breach to the human rights of three business owners.

Mr Thomas explained: “[The] service was not only inconvenient for the appellants, but also unlawful in that it was not permitted by the regulations and, in any event, it was kept secret so that none of those who might benefit from it could easily have found out about it”.

He believes that only with “major improvements” can HMRC’s telephone service for those needing assistance with VAT returns become “an acceptable alternative to online filing.”

“Even then, some people – for instance those with hearing or speech impairments, learning difficulties, or whose first language is not English – will be unable to file either online or by telephone,” Mr Thomas said.

“For them, and for many others for whom telephone filing is particularly inconvenient, paper filing really must be retained.”

The group warns that any failure to cure the human rights breach will result in more litigation, at the expense of the Exchequer, damage to HMRC’s reputation and a huge waste of time for taxpayers.


26th February 2014

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