Charitable enterprise offers the hard-up taxpayer peace of mind: TaxAid has on several occasions saved clients from bankruptcy. Neasa MacErlean reports

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The Independent Online
IN THE six months since it was established the charity TaxAid has saved several clients from bankruptcy.

Most cases have been less dramatic, but the charity has provided peace of mind as well as reduced tax bills for many of the 400 people who have contacted its offices in Kilburn, north London. Half were seen at the offices while the problems of the others were sorted out over the telephone or by post.

TaxAid, which was founded at the end of last year, provides 'a free and independent tax service - offering advice, assistance and advocacy to individuals in need'.

It defines its terms of reference broadly and will help a wide range of people who, for whatever reason, cannot afford professional advice.

This includes people starting up in business, the self-employed whose businesses are struggling, the mentally ill, the unemployed and any others who are financially pressed.

'We have seen quite a lot of people who three or four years ago were earning quite a large amount of money,' said Chris Lee, a volunteer and former tax inspector.

The charity recently helped to turn a pounds 10,000 tax demand into a pounds 1,500 refund for an unemployed man. He had earned significantly less than the Inland Revenue was assessing him for.

He had spent time in prison and a period unemployed while they had continued to assume he was earning. Like many people, he had felt frightened of the Inland Revenue and had never completed a tax return. It was a relatively simple job for TaxAid to sort out.

In another case TaxAid got a pounds 2,000 repayment for a 78-year-old blind man whose income the Revenue had significantly overestimated.

The charity was also able to help a deserted and impoverished wife and mother who felt herself to be under so much pressure that she could hardly function, let alone provide the Revenue with details about her tax affairs.

The charity organised a joint meeting with her tax inspector, who agreed to dispense with the need for accounts, accepting that her income fell within the tax allowances.

Many people who consult TaxAid have very simple problems. Mr Lee said: 'Very often we can see people for an hour, explain the position to them, they go away and the problems are solved. We do encourage self-help.'

The charity was founded by a former tax manager at the accountancy firm Stoy Hayward who became concerned at the number of ordinary people who suffered unnecessary financial and psychological hardship because of their tax affairs.

Since it was granted charitable status, TaxAid has attracted eight volunteers, seven of whom are tax professionals and the other a former government accountant.

In its first year TaxAid is being funded from a private donation, but it will soon rely for its survival on its own fund-raising activities. Some clients make donations from their tax repayments.

The charity is also hoping to earn money by producing leaflets and giving talks and running training courses on tax. At the moment, for example, it is producing two leaflets - one for school leavers, one for teachers - in association with the Banking Information Service, a body supported by the big banks.

For its clients TaxAid can provide a service that is at least as quick as they would get in the private sector if they could pay for it.

Anyone telephoning the office yesterday could have been offered an appointment on Monday. Clients are always given an appointment, if one is required, within a week.

At the moment there is no real problem in sifting out people who could afford to pay for tax advice. Two-thirds of the clients seen so far have been on income support and most are in debt.

'We tend to take people on trust,' Mr Lee said. 'There is no means test. If it becomes clear that they can afford advice it may be tactfully suggested that they seek it.'

Appointments can be made by ringing 071-624 3768 between 9am and 11am on weekdays.

(Photograph omitted)

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