‘Lawyers and tax experts have expressed outrage at plans to impose charges of up to £2,000 for contesting an HMRC decision at first tier and upper tribunals. They argue that the court fees would make HMRC less accountable and deter the poorest from getting justice.
The Ministry of Justice has proposed new fees of between £50 and £2,000, depending on whether or not the case goes to a full hearing and how complex it is. Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “By introducing fees, the government is effectively attempting to impose a financial penalty for exercising a statutory right of appeal against its own tax demand.”
An MoJ spokesperson said they “have sought to protect the most vulnerable by ensuring they will not have to pay new and higher fees.” However, Chris Jones, president of the CIOT, said: “These proposals are counter-productive and wrong in principle. They will fail to protect the most vulnerable taxpayers and are contrary to the interests of justice. The effect will be to deter some potential applicants, including many of modest means, and prevent them seeking access to justice when they have a perfectly good case.”
In principle, you can see an argument for saying that if you choose to engage the state (via the courts) in a private dispute that has nothing to do with the state, it’s fair enough for the state to levy a charge. After all, referees and umpires (or “judges” as they are usually called in the legal context) need to be paid. True, you can also see good arguments that it should be a cost borne by the general body of the population, kind of akin to an insurance policy – but at least you can see the argument.
But where the state is itself a party to the dispute, it’s a quite different matter. In introducing charges for the tax tribunals, the government is in effect proposing to charge you if you have the temerity to disagree with it. Put that way, the proposal isn’t just wrong – it’s completely outrageous. We have of course responded to the consultation document in pretty robust terms: and we know that many organisations including UK200 Group and the CIOT (as well as the Law Society) share our view. If any readers feel like writing to their MP about this proposal, so much the better.