Autumn 2003 Top Tip – To meet or not to meet, that is the question!

A request by the Inland Revenue for a meeting during a self-assessment enquiry is just that, a request. There is no statutory requirement to meet.

Pre self-assessment, a request for a meeting would normally come at the start of an investigation, so that the Inland Revenue officer could explain the reasons for being dissatisfied with a Return. Under self-assessment, an enquiry is not based upon the Inland Revenue’s dissatisfaction, but is generally a procedure whereby the Inland Revenue may seek to satisfy themselves that a Return is correct. Unless there are obvious errors in a Return that might be cleared up by a meeting, then it may not be appropriate to meet in the early stages.

Normally a request for a meeting will come when the records have been reviewed, so that the Inland Revenue Officer can set out concerns and seek explanations. Even at this stage, it is not always best to agree to meet, as the Inland Revenue will be armed with information that may often give them the upper hand.

Meetings can be inconvenient and costly, so it is quite acceptable to refuse to meet if the matter can be covered as quickly and effectively by correspondence.

Bear in mind, though, that if it later transpires that the Return does understate income or profits, and the Inland Revenue can show that there has been an unwillingness to answer reasonable questions, then this may be argued to be a lack of co-operation, with a consequent effect upon penalty levels.

There is no easy answer to the question of whether meetings should be attended. Each case should be considered upon its own merits. At times it helps to clear matters up quickly, at other times it may give the Inland Revenue the upper hand. If inclined to attend, it is useful to ask the Inland Revenue for a detailed agenda before confirming the meeting.

This will enable preparation to be undertaken to wrest the initiative from the Inland Revenue, and also to ensure maximum progress can be made. If resistance is met when requesting an agenda, reference to the Inland Revenue’s internal manual, the Enquiry Handbook, Paragraph 348 may assist. Inland Revenue staff are urged to “explain as clearly as possible what it is you wish to discuss”.

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