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Resolving Tax Debt - Why Being an Ostrich Won't Help

Updated: May 17

Resolving Tax Debt - Why Being an Ostrich Won't Help

With the current economic climate and cost of living crisis, many people and businesses are struggling for money. While it may be tempting to not pay taxes as they fall due, this can be a very dangerous game and can create a bigger hole which can be hard to get out of.


Failure to pay PAYE and employer related taxes can lead to criminal prosecution, and the late payment or filing of taxes leads to penalties and interest accruing. Many people then pay the tax which was due, and are surprised to find that they still have a tax bill. This is because any payment made is first allocated to penalties and interest before the tax itself is paid. This bill continues to accrue penalties and interest and, in no time at all, the tax can be dwarfed by the penalties and interest.


Despite knowing all of the above, times are hard, and the COVID lockdowns are having a lasting effect on some industries more than others. Money is tight and costs are high, which leads to the inevitable position where taxes are not paid in full, or on time. As a result, we are more frequently receiving requests from clients to assist with seeking financial relief for their tax debt.


While dealing with Inland Revenue is time consuming and stressful for most, this is something we do on a daily basis, and we are here to help take the stress and unknowns out of the situation. It is always better to approach the issue as soon as possible in order to mitigate penalties and interest accruing further, but also to stop an Inland Revenue collections officer becoming too wrapped up in your case without knowing the details and becoming entrenched in their position. This is common and can then make it very hard to persuade them of the full facts and background. I have often seen Inland Revenue decide that directors have chosen to fund their lifestyle at the expense of their taxes. On most occasions, this is simply not the case. Generally, directors are the last to be paid, and I have seen directors work for months on end without pay in order to try and keep their business afloat, yet Inland Revenue have different ideas.


It is important to realise that Inland Revenue do not operate in the same way a commercial creditor might operate. There are provisions that the Commissioner (or someone with delegated authority) must adhere to when considering any requests for financial relief so drafting the application requires a thorough knowledge of the relevant legislative provisions and the Commissioner's policy statements so that the right elements can be set out in order to give the application the best possible chance of success.


The most common form of financial relief is an instalment arrangement. This is where you enter into a formal arrangement to repay the tax over a period of time. You must also continue to meet new taxes as they fall due. All outstanding taxes are subject to both late payment penalties and interest. The longer it takes to pay, the more interest and penalties are added. The benefit of an instalment arrangement is that you can mitigate all late payment penalties other than the initial penalty. Interest continues to accrue for the period of the arrangement. Inland Revenue’s current interest rate is 10.39%. Therefore, it is in your best interests to pay the full amount as soon as possible.

Inland Revenue will generally want proof that you do not have the ability to make the payment in full along with a cash flow forecast showing that you can meet the proposed instalment arrangement, as well as all future taxes as they fall due. Inland Revenue will not enter into an instalment arrangement where a business is not solvent, so the cash flow forecast is a key tool in this assessment. Further, Inland Revenue may require you to complete a sworn statement of assets and liabilities to accompany the application.


Your situation may also allow you to make a request for remission of penalties, and in some cases, even interest. A well thought out application covering all the relevant points, and including non-commercial elements that Inland Revenue like to see might make all the difference. We have frequently been involved in successful applications when Inland Revenue has already applied for liquidation through the Courts. In these cases, the repayment request was the same, it was the non-commercial elements that helped get the application over the line and the liquidation proceedings dropped.


If you have tax debt it might be tempting to bury your head in the sand, but this is a problem that will not go away, it will only multiply. The best way to deal with tax debt is head on, and as soon as possible.


This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not replace specific tax advice. For personalised advice on all tax issues please contact us.

This article was accurate at the time of publishing.

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