Mr Kenneth William Bloomfield v The Commissioners for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs  UKFTT 593 (TC)
As discussed in one of our previous blogs (Estate 4 Limited v HMRC – proactivity can achieve results) we are often asked by clients, who find themselves subject to a long-running HMRC enquiry, how they might successfully bring such an enquiry to an end.
In such circumstances, taxpayers should consider whether it might be appropriate to apply to the Tribunal for a direction requiring HMRC to complete their enquiries within a specified period, pursuant to section 28A(4), Taxes Management Act 1970 ('TMA').
The recent decision of the Tribunal in Bloomfield v HMRC, serves as a useful reminder of the circumstances in which such an application should be considered, and is helpful in illustrating the relevant factors that the Tribunal will take into consideration when deciding whether to make such a direction.
In January 2010, HMRC opened an enquiry into Mr Bloomfield's 2008 tax return, on the basis that he owned three properties the rent from which had not been included in his tax return.
Mr Bloomfield provided the information initially requested by HMRC, but, over the following three years, was met with further, and increasingly wide-ranging, requests. Mr Bloomfield applied to the Tribunal for a direction that HMRC issue a closure notice pursuant to section 28A(4). His application was heard by the Tribunal in October 2013.
Firstly, it is of relevance to note, and helpful in understanding the Tribunal's decision, that during the prolonged period of enquiry, it transpired, and was accepted by HMRC (at the hearing) that two of the properties that formed the basis of the enquiry were not, in fact, owned by Mr Bloomfield, as had been alleged by HMRC and the third was his home address!
The Tribunal heard that Mr Bloomfield had cooperated with HMRC's requests, and had satisfied their demands for documents, but that, despite this cooperation, HMRC's enquiry had been "unreasonably protracted, onerous and conducted unreasonably". Mr Bloomfield further contended that HMRC had "continually extended the scope of the enquiry, without good reason" and made voluminous requests for documents and information, parts of which were based on information that had already been provided to them.
HMRC contended that there were outstanding issues which needed to be addressed. The Tribunal accepted that there were "limited items of information outstanding", which HMRC were justified in seeking to obtain. However, the Tribunal held that these outstanding matters were in hand, and they could see no reason, once they had been resolved, for the enquiry not to be closed.
Having considered the submissions of both parties, Judge J Blewitt helpfully commented that, in reaching his decision he had "balanced a number of factors, including the fact that this enquiry has been ongoing for a significant period of time, the cooperation of the Appellant, and the queries which remain outstanding", and duly directed that HMRC issue a closure notice within 30 days of his decision which would allow "time for the remaining enquiries to be completed without due delay".
As mentioned in the opening of this article, an application for a direction under section 28A(4) will not be appropriate in all circumstances, and as always, much will depend on the specific facts of the individual case under consideration. Various factors should be considered before applying to the Tribunal for such a direction, including those referred to by Judge J Blewitt in his decision:
- the length of time that the enquiry has been on-going;
- the level of cooperation from the taxpayer;
- the manner in which HMRC have conducted the enquiry; and
- the extent of the outstanding queries/requests from HMRC.
Taxpayers should be proactive when responding to an HMRC enquiry and this decision serves as a timely reminder of the steps that taxpayers and their advisers can take to bring long-running HMRC enquiries to an end.