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Greater control for taxpayers using repayment agents

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is changing the way taxpayers who use a repayment agent can receive overpaid tax to protect them and raise standards among repayment agents.

HMRC will introduce legislation to change the way repayment agents are paid for their services and better protect customers from the unscrupulous tactics used by some operators. This means stopping the use of legally binding 'assignments' as part of claiming an Income Tax repayment, which could only be cancelled if the agent and taxpayer both agreed to do so. This can be challenging for customers who become dissatisfied with their agent, or who simply wish to take over managing their own claim.

Under new arrangements, if a taxpayer chooses to use a repayment agent to reclaim overpaid tax and wants it sent to the agent, they will need to make a nomination, which they can cancel at any time. The new process will make it easier for taxpayers to stay in control of their repayments.

Angela MacDonald, HMRC's Deputy Chief Executive and Second Permanent Secretary, said:- "Taxpayers deserve better. We want to make sure they are better protected before choosing to enter into an agreement with a repayment agent. HMRC's updated standards for agents will level the playing field and provide the benchmark we expect all repayment agents to meet."

The changes follow HMRC's consultation last summer on:- 'Raising standards in tax advice: Protecting customers claiming tax repayments.' Responses to the consultation highlighted the need to improve agent transparency and standards with the overall aim of better protection for taxpayers.

As a result, HMRC is today also setting out the following measures:-

Updated standards for agents; applicable to all tax agents and include greater transparency requirements.

A new HMRC registration process for repayment agents; to make the agent sector more transparent so customers better understand what they are signing up to.

Victoria Atkins, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said:- "For too long taxpayers have been left in the dark as a result of misleading and opaque agreements with repayment agents. These new measures will ensure those who are entitled to claim a tax repayment or relief can do so freely and easily, whether they choose to do this themselves or by using an agent. This Government is making it easier to navigate the system for all taxpayers using an agent to claim money that's owed to them."

Victoria Todd, Head of the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, said:- "We welcome these additional steps, which show HMRC recognises the important role they play in consumer protection. Refund companies have a legitimate role in the tax system, but the practices of some of these companies in recent years have been unacceptable. The proposed changes will hopefully address problems around the use of assignments, increase transparency for taxpayers and set clearer standards for these companies' behaviour. Alongside this, it is important that more effort goes into raising awareness of refunds and ensuring it is as simple as possible for taxpayers to access them. We look forward to working with HMRC on the detail of the proposals."

These changes form part of the Government's commitment to tackle problems in the repayment agent market, which is currently an unregulated sector.

Responses to HMRC's recent consultation overwhelmingly supported the need for improving standards in the repayment agent sector. The updated HMRC standard for agents includes:-

Greater evidence of customer consent. This aims to ensure that taxpayers better understand the agreement they're entering into

Stricter transparency rules, including:- introducing a 14 day 'cooling off' period for customers, after entering into an arrangement with an agent, and an obligation on agents to ensure all communications and advertising material are fair, clear, accurate and do not mislead or conceal material facts

Further details on the approach to registration for repayment agents will be set out in due course.

If taxpayers think they are owed a tax rebate, they can claim directly from HMRC via the free and secure service on GOV.UK and will receive 100% of the money owed.

Lithium battery fire results in fatality and serious injury

MERSEYSIDE Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS) crews were called to a serious fire, at Daisy Mews, Litherland, in the early hours of Sunday, 8 January 2023. Sadly, we can confirm that 1 of the residents of the property has died and another is in a serious condition in Hospital.

MFRS crews were alerted at 3.00 am and on scene at 03.08 am. 4 fire engines attended. On arrival at the 2 storey semi detached house, fire crews found the ground floor fully involved in fire.

4 firefighters immediately entered the property wearing breathing apparatus and used hose reel jets to extinguish the fire whilst also searching for occupants.

2 occupants were located and brought out of the property by firefighters. CPR was undertaken by fire crews and North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) Paramedics. Tragically, 1 person was declared deceased at the scene, the 2nd person was taken to Hospital by NWAS in a serious condition.

A further resident who managed to escape the property and raise the alarm after being woken by smoke alarms was also taken to Hospital suffering from severe smoke inhalation.

A joint investigation between MFRS and Merseyside Police has revealed that the fire was accidental and caused by an e-bike left charging overnight. The fire had rapidly taken hold and spread quickly through open internal doors.

Area Manager Mark Thomas said:- "This is a devastating incident and our thoughts are very much with the family and friends of those involved. We are also mindful of the impact that the incident will have on the local community at this time and we will be on hand to offer our support in the coming days. I would like also to commend the efforts of our fire control staff who offered help to callers, our fire crews who attempted rescues, also working with NWAS who combined made every effort to provide emergency resuscitation for the casualties. This tragedy highlights the very real risks posed by e-bikes, which we have confirmed as the source of the fire. We would ask that people don't leave any electrical appliance, particularly e-bikes and scooters; charging unattended and definitely not while you are asleep when we are all at our most vulnerable. Also consider if you are leaving the bike or scooter in the way of your escape route should you need to evacuate in darkness. I would also urge people to follow the manufacturer's instructions, only using batteries and chargers which have been supplied with the vehicle or approved by the manufacturer. Make a bedtime routine ensuring all internal doors are closed as this will slow the progress of a fire if 1 should happen. In this incident the resident who raised the alarm was able to do so as smoke alarms had alerted them- please ensure you have working smoke alarms on every level of your home and check them regularly."

Firefighters and MFRS prevention staff will visit the local area to provide vital fire safety advice and complete home fire safety checks as part of a reassurance campaign in the coming days.

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