Motion to Consider
My Lords, I am pleased to introduce the Tax Credits (Late Appeals) Order 2014. It makes a small but important change to Section 38 of the Tax Credits Act 2002 to reinstate HMRC’s ability to accept late tax credit appeals. It inserts provisions to allow HMRC to treat a late appeal as made in time—that is, an appeal made outside the statutory 30-day time limit but within a further 12 months may be accepted in exceptional circumstances.
If a claimant disagrees with a decision made by HMRC—say, on a tax credit award—they can lodge an appeal within 30 days of the date of the decision. Since tax credits were introduced in 2003, it has been the policy intent that claimants can also lodge a late appeal in exceptional circumstances—for example, where a dependant died or they suffered a serious illness—within a period of 12 months after the normal 30-day time limit. Allowing late tax credit appeals where there is good reason to do so is consistent with the policy relating to the treatment of other appeals received by HMRC.
If there are no exceptional circumstances for lateness, HMRC will not accept the appeal. Instead, it will be passed to the tribunal, which will then make a decision as to whether to treat the appeal as made in time. This will be based on the tribunal’s wider view on whether it is fair and just to accept the appeal.
The defect that we are remedying today also carries across to the tribunal rules, meaning that tribunals cannot hear appeals made after the 30-day time limit either. The Tribunal Procedure Committee will similarly be remedying its rules to ensure that the legislation works as intended.
The defective legislation arose from changes made in 2009 to legislation applying to appeals in Great Britain in the light of the establishment of new courts and enforcement tribunals. HMRC and the MoJ introduced changes to their appeals legislation as a consequence of the transfer of the functions of the former special and general tax appeal commissioners to the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal tax chambers. An unintended consequence of the interaction of these legislative changes led to the legislation allowing HMRC to accept late appeals to lapse.
I should like to reassure the Committee about what has been happening since the lapse was discovered. We did not want claimants to be adversely affected by this lack of legal power, so HMRC has been accepting late appeals through its care and management powers, and judges are still deciding on a case-by-case basis. However, neither can do so indefinitely without this legislative remedy.
I should also explain that there is to be a change to the appeals process from 6 April this year. HMRC is introducing a new stage called mandatory reconsideration. When claimants dispute decisions, they will have to ask HMRC to conduct a mandatory reconsideration of the decisions before they can appeal, which they will then have to do directly to the tribunal. This is called direct lodgement. HMRC is introducing mandatory reconsideration to align the tax credits process to that already introduced by the DWP. As tax credits are to be replaced by universal credit over a period of time, it will help to provide consistency between the two departments around appeals. However, appeals to HMRC against decisions made prior to 6 April 2014 will be dealt with under the current flawed system.
This order remedies the flaw in the current legislation and legally reinstates HMRC’s power to accept late tax credit appeals. I commend the order to the Committee.
My Lords, nobody could object to such a wholly rational and reasonable order. I shall just ask a couple of questions. When was the error discovered? I was going to go on and ask the Minister to set out the consequences of it, but I think that he said that there have been no consequences to individuals because the process rolled on and, in fact, the order merely legitimises the administrative process that is taking place. If so, that has obviously been handled in an intelligent way and my question as to when it was discovered is somewhat academic.
Yes, my Lords, HMRC has been operating, as I said, under its care and management powers to accept late appeals as though there was no problem, as it were. The error was first discovered last May. There has been some discussion as to whether the change in the legislation was necessary, given that the whole system is changing from this April, but it was decided that it was, not least because late appeals in exceptional circumstances can be considered up to a year after the initial decision. So I can absolutely reassure the noble Lord that in the interim, since the problem was discovered, nobody has lost out. HMRC has been accepting late appeals through its care and management powers, and judges have still been deciding cases on that basis.