Reasonable Excuse – Recent Development

The recent case of Belloul v HMRC provides an interesting view on the concept of the definition of “reasonable excuse” for tax purposes.

Penalties 

The case related to HMRCs ability to charge penalties for the taxpayers’ failure to notify them about their liability to the High Income Child Benefit Charge (HICBC) dating back several years.

The case had been centered around the taxpayer being unaware that not only was there a requirement to notify HMRC that the HICBC was payable but that they did not know the HICBC existed at all and as a result he could not be liable for a penalty.

The First Tier Tribunal found in favour of taxpayer and in effect stated that ignorance of the law IS an excuse.

It is important to state at the outset that this was a First Tier Tribunal case and cannot, as such, be regarded as Case Law. The case may be cited but where there is not an absolute parallel, simply cannot be relied upon. It is also extremely likely that HMRC will take the case further to overturn the decision on the grounds that the Tribunal erred in law.

An examination of the case reveals that the appellant was successful in their appeal on the grounds that HMRC were unable to prove that details of the introduction of the HICBC in 2013 were communicated to the couple involved.

The appellants were viewed by the Tribunal as conscientious taxpayers who were used to the PAYE system and could not be expected to trawl through HMRC’s website searching for changes in the law which may affect them.

Evidence

If HMRC had been able to prove that the changes had been communicated to them, the taxpayer’s appeal would have been lost. However, the tribunal did not accept the evidence that HMRC had written to them because its systems stored the content of the communication, but not the actual letter with the postal address.

This may well be perceived that ignorance of the law is now an excuse. To overturn a long held (over 2,000 years) tenet such as this on the strength of a First Tier Tribunal Case is an extreme view and, as previously stated, actually holds no pull in Law.

No doubt the case will develop, and further updates will be issued as the case is progressed.

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