In a recent case, HMRC have been criticised for deliberately issuing penalties for late forms P35 (Payroll end of year forms) several months late, generating higher penalties than were necessary. A summary of the case is reported below.
This case has potentially wide ranging implications for other employers. Please do get in touch if you would like further guidance in this area.
The case (TC01286: Hok Ltd) concerned an appeal against a penalty of £400 for late filing of the 2009/10 P35. The penalty was calculated at £100 per month for four months. In October 2010 a further penalty of £100 was issued, given that the filing had taken place on the 15 October 2010 once the company had been alerted to its default.
The company argued that it thought it did not need to file the appropriate returns because its only employee had ceased employment part way through the year. It acknowledged that it was wrong and that HMRC was entitled to levy a penalty. However, the company argued that, if HMRC had notified it of its default, it would have been remedied it a far earlier time, thus avoiding ongoing penalties.
During the Tribunal HMRC stated that it runs a:
‘…structured programme to enable penalties to be issued regularly throughout the year, rather than waiting for the late return to be submitted and then issue a final penalty. These penalties, although aimed at encouraging compliance and having the effect of reminding are not designed to be reminders for the outstanding return.’
The Tribunal was amazed by this and stated that:
‘….HMRC deliberately waits until four months have gone by and does not issue the first interim penalty notice until, as in this case, September of the year of default.’
‘There can be no logical reason whatsoever for HMRC to delay sending out a penalty notice for four months so that, in effect, a minimum penalty of £500 will be levied unless the taxpayer has unilaterally realised that it has failed to undertake the necessary filing.’
‘In our judgement it would be a very simple matter for HMRC to set its computer settings so that a default or penalty notice was sent out immediately after the 19 May in any year, instead of some four months later. That might generate less penalty cash for the State, but it would be fair and conscionable as between the taxpayer and the State (acting by HMRC).’
‘As, in our judgement, HMRC has neither acted fairly nor in good conscience, in the manner described above, we do not consider that any penalty is recoverable over and above the £100 penalty for the first month unless HMRC proves (the onus being upon it) that even if such a penalty notice, which would have acted as a reminder, had been issued, the default would nonetheless have continued. It has proved no such thing.’