So you’ve agreed to a meeting.
And now, the time has come. Your tax investigation may just beginning or you may already be deep into the process. But either way, HMRC have insisted on a meeting. Maybe your accountant thinks it’ll be a good idea. Maybe you want a chance to fight your corner, toe to toe. Or maybe HMRC have even sent out an official Schedule 36 notice.
But when all is said and done, you’re probably wondering: ‘‘What happens next?!’
Well, fear not.
And why are we see confident, you ask?
Because really speaking, a meeting with HMRC doesn’t have to be as painful a process as you might think. Granted, it may not be a walk in the park, especially if the officer you’re dealing with is the jaded type. But if you’re in the middle of a tax investigation or enquiry, and so far you’ve been polite and courteous? There’s no reason this meeting will go south.
Instead? It might actually prove helpful to your case.
If you follow our steps.
What do I do once I receive notice of an HMRC meeting?
First things first: once you agree to a meeting, you might be wondering where it’ll all be taking place. The good news is that you get a say – don’t think you’re going to be hauled off somewhere.
Far from it, in fact; you can call the shots.
You might want the meeting to take place at your business. Maybe you’d prefer things at your accountant’s office. There’s even the possibility that you can take the fight to HMRC themselves, if you’re willing to travel to whatever office your HMRC officer is working from.
Still, the thought of this meeting can be incredibly stressful for some. And if the idea is looming large in your mind – if you’re worried about your officer scrutinising your every move? Talk to us.
And once again?
Don’t panic. Remember: you have rights.
There’s nothing wrong with refusing a meeting at your workplace or place of business, so long as you are compliant in setting up a meeting elsewhere. After all, you don’t necessarily want your clients to know you’re under investigation, do you?
For starters, the rumour mill is a dangerous thing – who knows what people will be saying by the end of the day.
But secondly, you don’t want HMRC poking their nose into aspects of your business that don’t need their input. They might not realise it, but if a HMRC officer starts commenting on other aspects of your business? It’s hardly professional, is it? Literally speaking, it’s none of their business – from how you organise your office to your non-tax-related workplace practices.
Admittedly, though, things used to be a lot worse. These days, a meeting is only truly necessary if you receive a formal notice. So any underhand tactics you’re expecting? They’re not worth worrying about: HMRC are coming for a reason, and that’ll be their main focus.
Still, as always, it pays to be prepared.
But what type of questions will HMRC ask about my business?
The meeting itself, then.
Well, it goes without saying that they’ll ask you about your tax returns. But the important thing to bear in mind? These meetings, no matter how well or badly they seem to go, are all about one thing: Facts.
With this in mind, be prepared to be polite but firm, ensuring your HMRC officer always remains on topic. Prepare for all kinds of questions, so long as they focus on your tax returns. Anything else?
You don’t need to answer. Even if they ask.
That said, it’s wise to make sure you have any documentary evidence to hand. But most importantly – for your peace of mind?
Remember that once the meeting is over, fretting about whether it went well or woeful is just not worth it. Because HMRC meetings? Tbhey aren’t the be all and end all of your tax investigation.
Instead, once the meeting is concluded, regroup with your accountant. Discuss. Hell, get in touch with us – tell us how it went.
What happens after an HMRC meeting?
Once the meeting is over, your tax investigation will continue onto its next stage – whatever that may be, depending on the type of investigation. But that isn’t to say you should forget about the meeting once and for all. In fact, you should get a handy little memento to remember the occasion.
And this memento is well worth focussing on.
Your HMRC officer’s notes.
As you might imagine, HMRC are keen note-keepers, and though they may tell you that you’ll receive a copy of said meeting notes, it’s a very good idea to request a copy if they don’t turn up.
It might sound like an inconsequential matter. What’s the issue with misplacing a few scribbled notes?
This is not the way to think.
What if your HMRC officer has misunderstood a key piece of information?
What if they’re version of the meeting differs to yours?
What if it all comes down to a tribunal?
‘Well,’ they’ll say, ‘that’s bad luck for you, isn’t it?’ Because even if the notes are unreliable?
If they have notes and you don’t, who looks more trustworthy?
So, if you don’t receive anything from your HMRC officer, remember to request notes – it’s not an impolite thing to ask, after all. And in return?
You’ll get a copy that you’ll be asked to sign, most probably. And by signing those notes, you’ll be showing your agreement with your officer’s depiction of events.
But there’s one last thing to remember: if they ask for a signature on those notes?
Don’t give it to them.
It may sound counterintuitive – and some HMRC officers might be a little fobbed off if you or your accountant declines the request. But signing those notes?
You might be unwittingly agreeing with the HMRC officer’s opinion on the meeting. And in a legal tax investigation? Opinions don’t matter.
Say your investigator is a good person – as most of them are, of course. His notetaking may be on top form. He may be fair and completely reasonable. A real sweetheart, even. But still, his notes are not hard fact.
Not strictly speaking, anyway. Because while he’s included all the important information he needs to remember, he may have left out information that you see as relevant.
And what if that piece of information comes up later? A piece of information that you and your accountant believe can help your case?
If you’ve already signed HMRC’s notes dismissing key information, you won’t convince a tribunal of that information’s importance.
But that’s not the only reason you might want to refuse signing such notes. There’s also the fact that language, by its very nature, is a fluid, subjective matter. It’s a construct that can be morphed and changed to suit the writer’s intentions.
What do we mean by this?
Here’s an example: If you state a fact relating to your business, a fact that the HMRC officer needs to double-check, he’ll make a note of it, obviously. But he might not say: ‘The business owner told me that…’ Instead, he’ll probably write: ‘The business owner alleges…’
See the difference?
You can probably guess how bad it looks if you sign a document that agrees with the use of the word, ‘alleges’, right? It makes you look… kind of dodgy, doesn’t it?
So once again: HMRC meetings aren’t about opinion, hearsay, or subjectivity.
HMRC meetings and investigations are about FACTS.
So make sure you pay keen attention to whatever notes you are sent. Even if you won’t be signing them, it’s good to have an idea of what the HMRC officer is thinking, isn’t it?
What’s more, it’ll help your investigation go all the smoother. Because if there’s any necessary corrections that need making? You can point them out. You can fight your case and win.
What can we take away from this if you’re facing a tax investigation?
Whether you decide to hold your meeting with HMRC at your workplace, your accountants’, or even HMRC’s offices, it goes without saying that such a meeting can be a stressful, intimidating procedure.
Still, at the end of the day, if you’ve been handed a formal notice by HMRC, you’re going to have to comply. Even if it’s just to keep the investigation going smoothly.
And to do that? As we always say, you’ll have to remain polite but firm. Make sure the meeting keeps on track. Make sure it keeps to the facts. And you’re meeting will be over and done with before you know it.
Are you about to face a meeting with HMRC? Still feeling a little unsure as to how to proceed?
Talk to us. We’ll give you peace of mind.
The Tax Haven.