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Millions may have filed their tax returns incorrectly due to unanswered calls by HMRC

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) could be forced to pardon or reduce penalties for taxpayers who filed returns late or incorrectly because the tax authority failed to answer their telephone calls.

Yesterday we discovered that half of all calls to HMRC in the first six months of 2015 were not answered, with millions of people potentially filing their tax returns incorrectly due to a lack of guidance from HMRC’s call centres.

Ministers within the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have condemned HMRC for its “abysmal” customer service.

Those calling the tax authority regarding their tax returns, PAYE slips and other financial documents have been increasingly left in the dark in 2015.

There are also concerns that pensioners are particularly impacted by this issue, as fewer of them have access to file their returns online and many of them have more complex tax arrangements.

John Pugh, a Liberal Democrats MP and long-standing member of the PAC, told The Telegraph: “Apart from the sheer inefficiency involved, there is an underlying anxiety that millions of people are paying the wrong tax because they can’t get through to HMRC on the phone.

“Online tax returns have their place, but at the end of the day people do have problems and queries that they need answered.

“The tax system is very complicated and they need help.”

Should HMRC look to pardon or reduce penalties for incorrect tax returns, it’s most likely to impact taxpayers who have filed late or made minor errors, but fines may still be issued in some cases – starting at £100 and escalating to £10-a-day after a three-month period.

HMRC fines for ‘carelessness’ can equal penalties of up to 30 per cent of any tax owed.

An HMRC spokesman said: “We work very much on a case-by-case basis but if you phoned us and couldn’t get through we would take that into account.

“If someone says they tried to call us we will take their word for it. We do not want to penalise anyone.

“We know our customer service hasn’t been as good as it should be so we have moved a further 3,000 people into them and things are getting better.

“All this means no-one should get a penalty for missing the 31 January deadline, or for putting the wrong figures in their returns because of call waiting times.

“A penalty for a return that was in on time would only apply for failing to take sufficient care to get it right.”

Therefore, the onus remains very much on the taxpayer to ensure they organise their tax affairs and pay the correct amount of tax due.

For those seeking guidance and support ahead of the 31st January self-assessment tax return deadline, please don’t hesitate to contact our friendly team to arrange a free initial consultation with your local TaxAssist Accountant.

We can take the worry away from self-assessment and allow you to concentrate on doing what you do best.

Image: Farouq Taj

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