It’s not only businesses and the better off that need tax advice. Some people on low incomes desperately need tax help and without it they and their families can suffer significantly.
The problem may not start with tax. It can be triggered by mental or physical illness, a learning disability, or loss of a family member, home or business. But the resulting tax problem can become critical and overwhelming if they can’t afford professional advice.
Unrepresented and vulnerable people can struggle to navigate a myriad of complex tax issues. Some are unnecessarily caught up in self-assessment – even though they have no tax to pay – and so get into late filing penalties which just keep building or HMRC investigations which they don’t know how to respond to.
Others don’t understand multiple tax codes on their small incomes and pensions. Worse, some abusive employers get them into inappropriate self-employment or under declarations for tax. All these people critically need help. The problem is getting worse due to:
- the increase in low paid work creating a more harsh working environment with some people working multiple small jobs and others in low income self-employment; and
- a tax regime that is becoming more difficult through a range of factors including changes in legislation or modifications to HMRC practices such as late filing penalties and an increased focus on debt collection. All are understandable changes but difficult for vulnerable people on low incomes to decipher without expert advice.
The two sister charities TaxAid and Tax Help for Older People specialise in helping those least able to cope who need tax advice but can’t afford to pay for it. Both charities give advice and where necessary act for the client. This help makes a huge difference, is frequently life changing and gets the client back on their feet. In effect it provides the tax profession’s safety net.
But demand for services already outstrips resource and is increasing rapidly. In response both charities have launched an urgent ‘Bridge the Gap’ appeal to encourage the tax profession to help support more vulnerable people in need.