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Those dissatisfied with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) decisions must exercise any right of appeal within tight legal time limits and should consult a solicitor as a matter of urgency. The point was powerfully made by the case of a businessman who failed to act promptly and was left nursing a six-figure bill.
Following an investigation, HMRC issued a seven-figure demand against a company in respect of alleged errors in its VAT returns. An inaccuracy penalty was also raised, and the company subsequently entered liquidation. The businessman was issued with a personal liability notice (PLN) on the basis that he was the company's sole director and shareholder.
He had 30 days in which to lodge an appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) against the PLN, which, after amendment, came to almost £875,000. However, he did not notify the FTT that he wished to challenge the bill until more than 38 months after that deadline expired.
In seeking to explain the delay, he asserted that he had reached an agreement in principle with HMRC and thus believed that there was no need for a formal appeal. He argued that the PLN was invalid and that HMRC had contributed as much as he had to the muddled handling of his case. He said that HMRC had itself recognised that the PLN was excessive and that he was likely to be forced into bankruptcy were he required to pay the full amount.
Refusing to entertain his late appeal, however, the FTT found that the main reason for the delay was either his wilful disregard of the deadline – in the hope that the matter would simply go away if he ignored it – inattention, or an assumption that everything would be sorted out satisfactorily without further involvement on his part. None of that could be viewed as a good reason for the delay.
The FTT acknowledged that the dismissal of the appeal on grounds of delay would cause very great prejudice to the businessman. On the other side of the balance, however, was the need to ensure that statutory deadlines are respected. If the appeal were permitted to proceed, HMRC would be required to devote resources to re-examining matters it had long considered closed.