In January 2020 HMRC sent me a demand for payment of IHT due from client trustees regarding a chargeable event in November 2013. I had left payment to them once the correspondence with HMRC ended in March 2014. As I had now retired I dare not “advise” the clients without risk of committing a criminal offence so I took up the cudgels on my own behalf and initially avoided contacting the trustees. I invited HMRC to consult the 201st section of the Act and explain why the demand was so stale but more importantly why it was addressed to me as an adviser.
There followed multiple tedious efforts to sort it all out including in the end delicate contact with the clients. The normal first reaction of clients is to blame their adviser but they had “overlooked” the tax bill (Yeah, really) and had received no demand in 6 years. My letter of December 2020 (a paint stripper), logging in detail my dozen attempts and naming names, resulted in HMRC waiving all legally due interest with grovelling personal apologies to me. I shall frame this and display it with my other rarity (a polite letter from a litigation partner in my old firm).
Sorry to bore you with facts as a preamble to my comments on the subject matter. I think my 50 years of judiciously twisting HMRC’s tail may help. You must know what buttons to press. You must only credibly threaten what you can deliver. You must choose your ground carefully and sparingly and never write anything you would not want a judge to read out in open court. You must quietly impart the news that you are specifically instructed not to just go away. In tax HMRC use client confidentiality as a weapon and exploit the fact that most taxpayers do not want to actually litigate (costs, uncertain outcome, delay and publicity) and are deeply apprehensive about upsetting HMRC, who are spiteful bad losers (and you and your livelihood are also potential targets). They can be a very formidable playground bully.
With this probate nonsense, solicitors’ firms can surely combine to take on HMCTS. Confidentiality is not in point as the very objective is publication. The client just wants to know that if you bloody the nose of the bully (perhaps here just the hapless incompetent) there will be no cost to or personal comeback on them. Could any further delay make things worse? Can they put all of you on the blacklist (existence not admitted but possible, whereas with HMRC not in doubt). Do not rely on or wait for the help of the pusillanimous organisations that watch over you with such tender care. They are in HMG’s grip and pocket.
A large group of harassed and unfairly embarrassed solicitors’ firms could write a letter before action (having carefully researched precisely what kind). You do not initially need to hint, even without prejudice, at a total denial of service or the horse’s head in the bed. You will not get help from the Big Battalions because they have cleansed themselves of nasty private client work but there is strength in numbers for numerous smaller firms with a common cause that affects real people with real votes. And you will surely attract the attention of the Meejah, who love an excremental Force 10 (“Storm Tristram”) especially if HMG is right in its path, so have the PR strategy in the locker up front.
I truly sympathise greatly with the predicament of those who post here but if you were my clients I would be asking, as kindly as may be: do you really want a result or just to sound off communally and hope someone else will make something happen, if at all?