A recent telephone call to HMRC has however elicited information that in some cases, repayments may take a great deal longer to come through than anticipated.
A client is due an Income Tax repayment which was claimed as a bank transfer request in their 2021 tax return, filed online in October last year. Normally we would expect the transfer to be made within two weeks or so from the date on which the tax return is submitted.
The sum involved is substantial in context so unsurprisingly, the client is anxious to receive the money and after a few weeks, they wanted to know why it had not been forthcoming. I called HMRC’s Agent Dedicated Line and was told that because the claim was comparatively large, it had been referred within the department for additional security checks. This is frustrating, but it’s understandable and it happens.
Another few weeks passed and the client contacted me to report that they had still not received the money. When I spoke to HMRC on that occasion I was told all the checks had been done and a message would be sent to the relevant team asking them to expedite the transfer.
Still nothing ten weeks on from my previous contact with them, so I called HMRC again. The person I spoke to was evidently a little disillusioned with the position they had been put in and was therefore quite forthcoming with information!
It seems that partly due to the pandemic HMRC has received considerably more fraudulent claims for refunds than has historically been the case. To counter these, they have set up an “AAS Team”. AAS I was told stands for “Attack Against the System” (really??!) and apparently, that team is tasked with writing to claimants to insist that they provide HMRC with a great deal more identity documentation including but not limited to evidence of address, copy passport and bank statements before repaying money to which those individuals are, in all probability, fully entitled.
A cursory search on the GOV.UK website for “Attack Against the System” reveals nothing and certainly, our client had received no communication from that team or anyone else in HMRC.
Clearly, fraud is a constant drain on the Exchequer and in principle we can support any measures to counter it. The problem here is that HMRC evidently does not have the resources to fund them adequately so they have chosen simply to hold on to claimants’ money until they get round to carrying out whatever checks they want to do.
This degree of caution contrasts starkly with the apparently laissez-faire approach HMRC took with Covid-related loans and the difficulties they are having now in investigating cases where fraud is evident or suspected.
For this individual client, I have now escalated the matter to a written complaint, which is what the HMRC officer I spoke to agreed I should do. They also shared with me that they were aware of cases where tax repayments are still pending 18 months after the claim was originally lodged!
So what can we do? A formal complaint, particularly where there has been no communication from HMRC, usually prompts a response though how constructive that response may be is a variable. The problems lie in the fact that the department is chronically under-resourced.