The Warwickshire Dylan

The village idiot is sat on his bench watching the traffic go by the duck pond when a rather super car glides up next to him.  The window slides down and out pops a chappie’s head.

“I say, Dylan, do you know the way to Stratford?”

The village idiot paused, thought.  And then thought some more before he replied.

“I wouldn’t start from here if I were you.”

Now that may not be the most amusing anecdote, but it describes a position I encounter frequently when dealing with enquiries, whether from clients or those initiated by HMRC.  They tend to come in front of me starting with an assertion.  And when I check, quite frequently the enquiry has started from that assertion, and I wouldn’t start from there.

There are differences.  As a rule, clients tend to be content to accept that it is an assertion, go back to the real start of their journey and then explore the trip based on the facts.  After all, unless there is user error, a Satnav doesn’t start your journey miles from where you are (although mine does sometimes change its mind mid trip and try to take me somewhere else!).

With HMRC it tends to be difficult to get them to move away from their assertion, no matter how far from the real starting point it begins.  Sometimes this is not their fault.  The taxpayer may have started with an assertion and then not addressed the full facts.  It is still, however, difficult to get the idea out of the taxman’s head.  Sometimes they start their enquiry though with that assertion sitting in their head.  They may not admit that, would be horrified that I think that, but they do.  And once again I don’t blame them and can even empathise – my twelve years in Customs & Excise is a long time ago now, but I remember how we were trained; “they’re all at it, you’ve just got to find out how”.

My job, from a telephone enquiry, right through to a Tribunal tends to have three elements.  Establishing the facts.  Applying the law.  And then providing or arguing an opinion.

The first and the most important is establishing the facts.  You cannot seek to apply the law without full knowledge of the facts – and that applies equally to clients and taxmen.

Frequently this is not an easy task and it is not unusual for important facts to be omitted.  My clients’ typical comment is that “Oh, I didn’t think that was important”.  But sometimes it is more sinister.  For example, on a recent Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) case, it came out at the meeting that HMRC had withheld evidence from the taxpayer and us.  Indeed, this case is in Tribunal, and had diverted into ADR to clear the ground, and this evidence was not available to the Tribunal either.

So, there is a world of difference between instances of difficulty establishing the facts going from ignorance right through to withholding of evidence.  Which is why I spend a lot of time dealing with assertions.

Which reminds me….

The village idiot is sat there after a few pints at the pub over the duck pond when another rather super car glides to a stop and another chappie’s window slides down.

“I say, Dylan, can you tell me the way to Stratford?”
Dylan pauses, pauses a bit more and asks, “How do you know my name is Dylan?”
“Oh” said the chappie “I guessed”.
“Good” said Dylan “Guess the way to Stratford”

Steve Botham
Warwickshire