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How We Achieve Our HMRC Tax Investigation Success Rate

I really do understand how very stressful these investigations are. We are all of us ordinary human beings, and whether you have erred or not the late night fear of the unknown is the same! What's going to happen, where is this taking me and what is the outcome going to be? It's basic human nature.

  • If you haven't erred then you should not have to suffer any consequences.

  • If you have then, regardless the seriousness, it's a case of putting things right and moving on.

Whichever, there is life after an investigation, I repeat, "there is life after an investigation". As countless clients have told me, "I'm so glad it's sorted and I can move on". It makes no difference how serious or otherwise the issues are, there are solutions and ways forwards in respect of them all! I treat each case on its individual circumstances.

Basically I:

  • care passionately about my clients and achieving the best appropriate outcome for them.
  • like to win.
  • know the system inside out and have worked in and around every angle of it for 40+ years.
  • have a thorough understanding of and can interpret and process relevant law.
  • understand fully the limitations on HMRC, what HMRC can and cannot do.
  • have, since the introduction of the tribunal service in 2009, developed a significant expertise in the conduct of cases there.


With 40+ years experience I have the personal and technical skills to achieve the proper and realistic solution to your situation!


I first give you a brief insight into aspects of the law that HMRC would prefer you not to know! The "issue" is not whether HMRC is entitled to investigate taxpayers (it is) but how it conducts its investigations! What it is and is not entitled to do!

The underlying principle is for us to get a grip of the situation so as to take control and achieve an outcome. Bluntly, the sooner control is achieved the sooner the nightmare comes to an end!


The first thing to be clear about is that HMRC's remit is a predatory one of getting as much tax in as possible. It does not undertake an objective assessment of overall situations! Rather comes to conclusions about situations where it suspects tax has been under declared, issues assessments etc and it is left to the taxpayer to disprove HMRC's assertions. Big Brother, Absolutely!

Three Primary types of Issues

1. Some situations involve actual tax offences; my role in these is to ensure the best outcome within the parameters of the law. Regardless seriousness it is not my place to judge, but to help to move forwards from mistakes made with a clean slate for the future.

2. Others will involve situations where HMRC is completely out of order and the taxpayer has done nothing wrong. Here my job is to defeat HMRC's case!

3. The third should not, but frequently is the subject of an investigation; technical arguments about particular issues. I am thoroughly trained in the interpretation and application of the law and am well able to undertake these.

Taking Control

In coming to its conclusions HMRC is entitled to visit premises to inspect and generally require sight of and access to documents. Importantly however whilst it can ask, it cannot simply demand whatever data it wants.

A little understood concept is that the law allows HMRC only to seek material that can be "reasonably required... for purpose of checking the taxpayer's tax position". HMRC cannot require entry into property that is entirely used as a private dwelling. There are further restrictions on what HMRC can do as regards, for example, private bank statements which may not need to be retained in the same way as business records.

There is not room here to get into a detailed discussion, suffice to say that just because HMRC wants, does not mean that HMRC can have!

Additionally it is a little known fact, but HMRC simply does NOT have the final word in anything! Everything, repeat everything that HMRC does is open to appeal at tribunal. Tribunal is totally independent of HMRC! Its remit, completely different from HMRC's, is to ensure that the interests of equity are served and that outcomes are reasoned and based on the balance of probabilities.

Additionally it is open to us to approach tribunal at any time to seek closure of any investigation in respect of which HMRC's conduct is not appropriate.

Interaction with Tribunal

I cannot over emphasise the excellence of the tribunal system. It does not charge a fee to consider cases, proceedings are informal and the judges friendly and helpful. Tribunals are completely independent of HMRC; the judiciary who run it come to objective conclusions on the balance of probabilities, having regard to all the circumstances.

The taxpayer does not need to be in any way apprehensive or in fear of tribunal.

To read more about tribunal, please click here.

Types of Investigations

HMRC has bred a hybrid of different names for its investigations. For practical purposes investigations can be divided into two categories. The vast majority can be grouped into the "less" serious category and are dealt with by HMRC Local Compliance (LC). The "more" serious, including COP9 are dealt with by the Civil Investigation of Fraud (CIF) team. Be aware however that there are different titles for both!

To read about HMRC Local Compliance (LC) please click here.

To read about "More Serious" Civil Investigation of Fraud (CIF), including COP9, please click here.

Meetings with HMRC - v - Cooperation

Does the taxpayer have to meet HMRC? Absolutely NOT! Note that this applies across the board, from less serious case up to and including COP9. When HMRC seeks a meeting it does not provide a realistic agenda. The taxpayer is expected to provide speculative answers to questions and information is frequently sought completely unrealistically, "how did you fund the purchase of a house 20 years ago", for example!

I do occasionally meet with HMRC when I wish to consider the way forwards for example. When this occurs the meetings are conducted appropriately under my stewardship and the taxpayer is not exposed to duress! I audio record all such meetings. In respect of one recently, I was able to demonstrate the unacceptable conduct of HMRC to such an extent that they were prepared to refund my fees for the day to the client


Cooperation is fundamental to minimising penalties and it must be demonstrated. It is not however necessary to attend a meeting in order to demonstrate cooperation. The exchange of information in written format is perfectly acceptable.

Examples of Successful Cases

To read a selection of our recent case conclusions, please click here.

For more in-depth and sometimes technical examples, please click here.

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Arthur, Debono & Hamilton Forensic Accountants Ltd Registered Office 12 De Clare Close, CF36 3JH, Registered in Wales, 10083898.