SA breakdown probe begins

The Inland Revenue has launched an internal inquiry into how civil servants dealing with self-assessment came to issue tax investigation notices after the department’s self-imposed January deadline.

Earlier this month, the Revenue was forced to withdraw investigation notices for 1996/1997 tax affairs posted after the 30 January deadline. The blunder means that hundreds of taxpayers will escape investigation into their tax affairs.

Local tax offices will investigate the issue, but it is still far from clear how many late notices were issued under the beleaguered self-assessment regime.

A Revenue spokeswoman said the reviews were on a local basis and that other aspects of the self-assessment regime were under ongoing review.

News of the investigation, however, did little to calm mounting frustration from tax experts, seething after a spate of errors in this year’s self-assessment round.

Richard Shooter, a partner at Henstock Shooter and chairman of the English ICA’s tax monitoring group, said the Revenue was wrong to insist that letters could be sent out on 30 January and still meet the 31 January deadline. ‘With first-class post, it’s deemed to arrive the next day, so 29 January was the latest deadline to post inquiry notices, not 30 January,’ he said. ‘Most Revenue letters are second class.’

One potential upside for taxpayers is when an investigation notice was issued late into a specific aspect of a taxpayer’s affairs – an aspect inquiry – the Revenue would not only be unable to investigate the query this year, it would also be unlikely to revisit it in the following tax year.

Shooter called for the government to launch a wider review into self-assessment, similar to the last year’s consultation document between the Revenue and the accountancy profession.

This view was echoed by Paul Harrison, a tax investigations partner at KPMG.

He argued that the Revenue needed to clarify internal guidelines for self-assessment and improve staff training.

‘The Revenue needs to give staff clearer instructions over deadlines and check that notices are sent out by appropriately trained technical inspectors,’ he said.

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