HMRC Tax Problems: Advice and Support

HM Revenue and Customs are by far the most common creditor faced by company directors with debt problems.

This article will explain how HMRC handle tax debts, and your best courses of action if you owe them money.

HMRC Revenue & Customs Tax Problems

We Can Help you with HMRC Inland Revenue Debt

We are some of the UK’s most experienced mediators with HMRC and offer a free, fully confidential directors helpline which you can call at any time to receive advice.

HM Revenue and Customs has significant resources at their disposal to recover unpaid tax; so it’s vitally important to make them a top priority. Have a look at our HMRC knowledge-platform to learn much more about many different elements surrounding tax debt and HMRC.

If You have Problems Paying Your Tax Bill, These are the Stages of Escalation

Have you Received a Threatening Letter?

Receiving a letter from HMRC is a frightening experience. The letters are threatening in tone as they are intended to goad you into action.

What you can do: Under no circumstances, ignore the letters and continue working as if everything was normal. On the other hand, if you engage with HMRC about your tax problems, you may be able to stop the situation worsening.

HMRC will want to know that you are trying to clear your tax arrears. Even a nominal payment will provide some evidence of this and may even prevent legal action in the future. Keeping them informed will also instil more confidence that your company’s case file does not need to be escalated to the next stage..

Read our full article here on: Threatening Letters.

HMRC Debt Collection Agencies

Most HMRC Debt Collection is now outsourced to 3rd party agencies. One of these may contact you on HMRC’s behalf and this of course a stressful process. You should understand that are legally required to send you a letter before turning up at your door and, if they do turn up, they cannot enter without your express permission.

Have you Received an HMRC Enforcement Notice (previously known as a Distraint Warrant) ?

An enforcement notice (distraint warrant) will be logged and served if you fail to make payments, despite previous warnings. Seven days after the warrant is served, HMRC will be entitled to seize any non-essential assets and sell them at auction – usually at a lower price than you might be able to achieve otherwise.

What you can do: You need to take action as soon as possible after receiving the enforcement notice as there is a set timeline of events that will lead to HMRC seizing certain of the company’s goods to sell to set off against the debt. If you have not spoken with them, do so as a priority. Call us now if you have queries as to the options available to you given your circumstances. 

When do HMRC Take Legal Action Against Tax / Court Action ?

HM Revenue and Customs will then either take your company to the county court or issue a statutory demand. These options depend on the amount, history and lateness of your payment – in either case you will be given a deadline to respond to the claim.

The legal action may also involve the use of contracted debt collection agencies.

What you can do: Again, try to speak with them to negotiate terms to settle the debt. Ensure that you respond to the claim and, if it cannot be settled prior to going to court, attend the hearing. Again, we can help but the sooner we are brought on board at this stage, the more chance we have of negotiating an effective resolution.

Have you been Issued an HMRC Security Bond (NOR)?

If HMRC believe your company is insolvent, they may want security. The security bond is a very serious legal instrument and in some cases more serious than a winding up petition. A Notice of Requirement (NOR) of Security is used for VAT and PAYE.

The added complication is that the company tax debts can be transferred to the directors or other named individuals in the NOR. The debt is usually expressed on a joint basis with the named individual.

The security must be provided before a stipulated date and trading after that date is a criminal offence. A fine of £5,000 for each offence is also applied. Be aware simply closing the company and starting again is unlikely to be successful as the bond can be transferred.

What you can do: If HMRC send a Notice of Requirement, you can appeal the decision if you think that they have made their decision based on incorrect information. If you want to appeal, you should do so as soon as possible, but at the latest within 30 days of the issue of the notice.

It’s a criminal offence to trade after the date stipulated in the notice if you have not given the security required by it. This is a very serious position to be in and you should seek advice from insolvency professionals, such as ourselves, as soon as you receive the notice. 

Has HMRC Sent You a Winding Up Petition?

If you’re failing to respond to the tax debt collection or security request, HM Revenue and Customs they will ask the Court for a hearing and serve a winding up petition. Typically, you will have seven days from the date the petition is served to satisfy HMRC enough to stop them advertising it in the London Gazette. Be aware that the court hearing for the petition cannot be stopped once the petition has been served. Legal fees may be added to the debt. No company assets can be transferred or sold after the petition is served.

Once the petition is advertised in the London Gazette, your company bank accounts will be frozen. Other creditors can then use the same petition to wind up your company. Debts of more than £50,000 will be dealt with at the High Court in most cases.

What you can do: As stated above, once the petition has been served, you cannot stop the court hearing. You can, however, negotiate with them to stop them from advertising the winding-up petition in the London Gazette. The advertisement alerts other creditors to the company’s position and they can use the same petition to wind-up your company, meaning it can worsen your issues significantly. Considering liquidation voluntarily at this stage may be a sensible solution, where possible. This option may bring an element of control over the process back to you.

You need to act quickly – there’s only a seven day window between the serving of the winding up order and the advertisement of the petition. We can negotiate with HMRC on your behalf to stop them advertising the petition in the Gazette and have a good success rate of doing this for clients in the past but need to be informed as soon as possible after the petition has been served in order to have a chance at success. Read the full article on Winding up Petitions.

What are my options for HMRC Tax Help?

As the UK’s largest creditor, HMRC have efficient and sometimes quite intimidating methods in place to recoup what is owed them. This section delves into specific solutions that may help you get through your HMRC debt.

Can I Negotiate a Time to Pay Arrangement (Payment Plan) with HMRC?

If they allow a ‘time to pay arrangement’, (payment installments) remember that this only applies to the tax arrears in question – any future taxes still need to be paid on time and in a single lump sum.

Failing to pay other taxes will be considered as a default and may affect their faith in your company’s ability to pay. This can be an important factor later on if you enter into a company voluntary arrangement.

It’s, therefore, vital to take all future taxes into account when pulling together your cash-flow forecast to help prevent any further HMRC tax problems. Any default is likely to result in the automatic threat of a winding up petition.

My Business Has PAYE/N.I. Tax Bill Problems

Although limited companies protect a director’s personal assets, this does not apply in PAYE or National Insurance cases where the director is proven to be criminally negligent. Although unusual, this is becoming more common and directors should seek professional insolvency advice immediately if significant sums are unpaid.

Trading while insolvent and showing preference to one creditor over PAYE or NI – for example, if employees are not paid, but company directors pay themselves – can prompt them to take a more serious look at a company.

What Can I do do about HMRC VAT Arrears?

HMRC take VAT more seriously than some other forms of tax debt, so if you are behind with your payments the suggestion is to act promptly to ensure the situation doesn’t escalate. Significant VAT arrears is a notable indicator of insolvency also so bear in mind that problems in this area may prompt HMRC to probe deeper into your company’s tax affairs.

Many companies experience VAT issues due to tax inaccuracies, specifically as they reach the VAT threshold. Sometimes Accountants do not register the business for VAT when they should or equally do not deregister when the business’ turnover drops below £83,000. This can cause issues with the amount of VAT that is expected from HMRC and the amount that the business is aware it owes.

What you can do:  VAT Arrears is best tackled head on, by keeping clear lines of communication with HM and Revenue, and negotiating where possible. If you’re interested in learning more, read the full article on HMRC Vat Arrears. You should also bear in mind that negotiating with HMRC is something we’ve been doing for many years, so it may help your case to have us doing so on your behalf.

What are HMRC’s Powers to Seize Tax that is Owed

Despite not having preference over other unsecured creditors, the law changed in April 2014 to allow HMRC to seize tax that is owed from an individual or company bank account. In principle, you should receive several warnings and your bank account may be frozen as a ‘warning sign’ before any money is actually taken from the account. They must leave at least £5,000 in your bank account and can take as little as £1,000.

HMRC’s Powers to Pursue Directors for Tax Arrears

HMRC do have a number of powers to pursue directors personally but they are used usually only in exceptional cases as opposed to being used as the ‘norm’.  Read the full article here on Whether Directors Can be Held Personally Liable for Tax Debts.

HMRC do have the right to pursue directors personally for unpaid PAYE tax arrears and/or National Insurance Contributions under the Social Security Act and usually by way of a Personal Liability Notice (PLN), however, this is usually only in the following circumstances:

  1. Where a director has deliberately withheld PAYE/National Insurance in favour of paying creditors and/or the directors, themselves.
  1. The directors have been criminally negligent in their managing of the company PAYE/National Insurance.
  1. The directors committed a fraud that led to non payment of PAYE/National Insurance.
  1. NB: HMRC would need to prove the directors/officers of the company (including a manager) deliberately withheld PAYE/National Insurance and showed preference to themselves or another creditor.

How to contact HMRC Debt Management

If you need to speak with a someone at HMRC’s dedicated Debt Management and Banking Team, their contact details are as follows:

HMRC Debt Management helpline phone number is 0300 200 3887.

Opening times: – 8 am to 8 pm, Monday to Friday

Do you need HMRC Tax Debt Advice?

If you’re struggling with tax arrears and need advice, contact us to get help on the more serious stages and threats. You can contact us on 08000 746 757 or use the live chat to get in touch.

Written by: Mike Smith

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