Ask Annie: So who owes the cash here? A run-in with the Revenue

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The Independent Online

Q. In January I received a letter from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) telling me my tax code had changed, and notifying me that I owed unpaid tax from 2004-05 of £1,237.62.

I telephoned HMRC and told the official that, far from owing tax, I had probably been overpaying in the 2007-08 financial year, as my current employer had only just given its local tax office the P45 leaver's form I had received from my previous employer – even though I have been working for this company since October last year.

The official told me I would receive a letter with a breakdown of all the calculations, explaining where the underpayment had occurred. I received this in February.

It gave all sorts of figures that were incorrect, so I telephoned HMRC again. This time I was advised to write in asking for any outstanding money owing to be deferred until the 2009-10 financial year, to give the tax office time to get all the information up to date and sort things out.

I did as I was told but then I received some additional information from an employment agency that had found me work in the past; this threw extra light on my tax affairs.

I made yet another call to the tax office and requested that someone reinvestigate my case. The call handler told me that any money deducted incorrectly would be paid back to me after my affairs had been looked at again. I have a family and can't afford to wait for that to happen.

All in all, I have been bitterly disappointed with the lack of interest shown by the authorities in resolving this issue. Why are they unwilling to allocate my case to one person from the tax office?

ET, Hereford

A. You have certainly got yourself in a tangle with the taxman, and it seems that the problem may take some time to sort out.

Ronnie Ludwig, a partner in the private wealth group at chartered accountants Saffery Champness, says: "When phoning your tax office, you are normally going through to a call centre somewhere in the UK. These are manned by individuals with basic tax knowledge who have access only to the computer records."

Mr Ludwig adds that more technical queries will be referred to specialist service officers, whose workloads are often heavy. So delays are not unusual.

He says that in your case it's likely a mistake has been made. "It appears you did not initially provide your P45 to your current employer, so you probably completed a P46. This could have prompted a review of your records. It may well be that there has been an error involving an incorrect national insurance number."

Mr Ludwig suggests you phone once again to find out if HMRC has done what it promised and arranged for the surprise tax bill to be deferred to the 2009-10 tax year. If not, you should request to speak to a manager to ensure that it is done.

He also suggests that you write to HMRC, including details of the problem and the various calls you have made: "You will hopefully have the name of a higher-grade officer by this stage and should address the letter to them. If not, address it to the area director. You should also copy the letter to the complaints manager at the HMRC office."

If this does not resolve matters, you can request a review of the case by another HMRC officer. If you are still unsatisfied, you can refer matters to the official adjudicator, who will carry out an independent review.

Finally, you can even take your case to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

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