When you think of the taxman, you don’t think of compassion. From biblical times, there has always been a stereotype of the uncaring, demanding taxman taking everything from families who can’t pay. Sometimes, that’s an undeserved reputation – tax collectors are people too, after all. However, recently HMRC played the stereotype to the hilt when it tried to fine a man for not filing a tax return while he was homeless.
Mr K. Pokorowski ended up in a situation nobody would want to be in. Having lost his job, his savings, his home and everything in it, he ended up on the street. It took him nearly 3 years to get his life back in order, but when he did, he found that HMRC were not happy with him. Somewhat understandably, when his life collapsed Mr Pokorowski was not in a position to file a tax return for that year. However, HMRC contended that homelessness was no object to not keeping your address updated – they were trying to fine him for not filing a tax return, even though all HMRC documentation had been sent to an address he no longer lived at!
Thankfully, when HMRC tried to pursue this in court, it was very emphatically thrown out by the tribunal, who called it “a scandal”. It’s important that HMRC takes an impartial view on tax issues, and doesn’t let “sob stories” affect due process. But there’s impartiality, and then there’s just not seeing sense. A situation like this, especially when Mr Pokorowski made every effort to get his taxes in order after sorting out his life, is clearly an exceptional circumstance and should be treated as such. Blanket enforcement of rules like these, with no regard for situational awareness, only harms those most vulnerable, and this is a key example of how HMRC sometimes really needs to just apply common sense to its tax processes. To quote the tribunal’s conclusions, “For HMRC to expect a homeless person to keep HMRC up-to-date with their address is ridiculous – and just needs to be stated to show its absurdity”!
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