HMRC fines homeless man £1,600 for filing tax return late

HMRC’s behaviour has been described as a ‘scandal’ and ‘ridiculous’ after it issued £1,600 in fines to a homeless man who had filed his self assessment tax return late, with the tax authority claiming the man’s circumstances were not ‘special’

Krzysztof Pokorowski, a self-employed electrician, travelled to Poland in April 2014 and had his drink spiked which, on his return to the UK, lead to him losing his job and house. On his eviction from his property, Pokorowski says that his belongings were thrown into the street where they were either lost or stolen, including all his documents.

Due to this Pokorowski ended up sleeping on the street until January 2017 when he was able to find a job and consequently moved to permanent accommodation.

On 6 April 2015, HMRC issued a notice to file a tax return for 2014/15 but this was sent to Pokorowski’s previous address, as well as subsequent penalty notices. Pokorowski eventually filed his 2014/15 tax return on 8 July 2017.

At a First Tier Tribunal, HMRC claimed that it was the responsibility of Pokorowski to notify HMRC if he changed his address and said that the ‘circumstances are not “special” and therefore there are no grounds for a special reduction’.

Pokorowski claimed that as he had lost of all his belongings and documents, and as he was homeless, he had a reasonable excuse for failing to file on time.

Judge Aleksander found that Pokorowski had a reasonable excuse and allowed his appeal.

Judge Aleksander said: ‘HMRC's decision to pursue Mr Pokorowski for penalties in the circumstances of this appeal is a scandal. For HMRC to expect a homeless person to keep HMRC up-to-date with their address is ridiculous – and just needs to be stated to show its absurdity.

‘I also find that HMRC's decision that there were no "special circumstances" to be flawed – in other words, no reasonable HMRC officer acting reasonably could have reached this decision, and if Mr Pokorowski did not have a reasonable excuse (which eliminated his liability to penalties), I would have reduced the penalties to zero.’

An HMRC spokesperson said: ‘We are sorry that this case came to court and we apologise to Mr Pokorowski.

‘We know that people often need additional help and support from us and we are committed to delivering that while being considerate and sensitive to individuals’ circumstances.’

Pokorowski v the Commissioners For Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs [2019] UKFTT 86 (TC) 

Report by Amy Austin

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Comments

I find it disturbing that HMRC failed to include cases quoted within their bundle of paperwork and that they got their citations wrong. It rather suggests that inexperienced officers are not being properly supervised. I will not comment on the substance of the case beyond the fact that a great deal of time and expense was spent to no avail for what appears to be a rather soulless act.

The problem is in all large organisation once an action is started nobody has the discretion or common sense to make a decision to stop the action.

It is not in the legal representative of HMRC to see common sense and stop the case as it would stop their gravy train to make money by prolonging the case.

I have seen this happening at several of Government Departments.

It also allow an officer of HMRC to escape from making a decision which may be challenged on review.

So leave it to the Tribunal or Court of make the final dicission and avoid taking blame for wrong discision irespective of costs (legal) to the public purse.

In a recent case involving appeals for the company and it's director tax affairs. The hearing were on different dates.

At the Tribunal hearing of the company's appeal the bundle presented by HMRC was for the Directors appeal hearing.

HMRC representative wanted to hold up the commencement of the hearing so he could go back to the office and bring the correct bundle.

The Tribunal Judge was displeased and rebuked HMRC

Can we please have some competent HMRC staff who can make common sense decisions [cases which should have been dealt by common sense] to avoid wasting public resources and distress to us.

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