HMRC fines homeless man £1,600 for missing tax return deadline

HMRC slapped a homeless man with penalties totalling £1,600 after he failed to file his tax return by the due date, according to a report in The Guardian.

However, the judge presiding over the self-employed electrician’s appeal called HMRC’s actions ‘ridiculous’ and ‘a scandal’.

Representing himself at the appeal heard in December 2018, Mr Pokorowski said that he became homeless after he lost his job and then ran out of savings. He also explained to the court that his documents had been lost or stolen after he was evicted.

HMRC countered Mr Pokorowski’s argument by saying he was responsible for telling them about any change of address, and said the homeless man’s situation didn’t count as special circumstances for reducing the penalty.

Breakdown of HMRC penalties handed to Mr Pokorowski

Date Penalty type Amount
17 February 2016 Individual tax return late filing penalty £100
12 August 2016 Daily penalties £900
12 August 2016 6 month penalty £300
21 February 2017 12 month penalty £300

What the appeal judge thought

However, Judge Nicholas Aleksander disagreed with the tax authority, stating: “I also find that HMRC’s decision that there were no “special circumstances” to be flawed – in other words, no reasonable HMRC officer acting reasonably could have reached this decision, and if Mr Pokorowski did not have a reasonable excuse (which eliminated his liability to penalties), I would have reduced the penalties to zero.”

In concluding the appeal, Judge Aleksander said: “HMRC’s decision to pursue Mr Pokorowski for penalties in the circumstances of this appeal is a scandal. 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.”

What counts as a ‘reasonable excuse’?

You can read more about what the tax authority thinks is a ‘reasonable excuse’ for not filing your tax return in our guide to HMRC late filing penalties, penalty appeals and reasonable excuses.

The judge said Mr Pokorowski had a reasonable excuse, and noted that he had filed his return within a reasonable time after getting back on his feet.

How the self-employed electrician ended up on the streets

  • April 2014 – Mr Pokorowski returned from a trip to Poland
  • lost his home
  • slept on the street
  • Christmas 2016 – found a homeless shelter
  • January 2017 – moved into a hostel

…and then got back on track

  • April 2017 – found a job and permanent accommodation
  • July 2017 – filed his tax return

HMRC apology

The Guardian article says HMRC is looking into putting things right with the self-employed electrician.

A spokesperson for HMRC said: “We are sorry that this case came to court and we apologise to Mr Pokorowski.

“We know that people often need additional help and support from us and we are committed to delivering that while being considerate and sensitive to individuals’ circumstances.”

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