If you are on the receiving end of an adverse tax decision, any delay in seeking legal advice can be fatal to your cause. In a case on point, an importer of mobility scooters came dangerously close to losing its right of appeal against six-figure tax demands.
The importer argued that scooters it imported over a three-year period were properly classified as carriages for disabled persons and were thus free from import duties and VAT. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), however, took the view that they were simply motor vehicles and raised tax demands totalling £383,736.
The importer had 30 days to appeal against HMRC’s relevant decisions but missed that deadline, in one case by over three months. In those circumstances, the importer was constrained to make an application to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) for permission to pursue a late appeal.
Upholding the application, the FTT noted that the law in relation to the tax treatment of mobility scooters was in a state of flux. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the importer’s ability to file the appeal on time was also relevant: workers had been instructed by the government to stay at home during lockdown and that made it difficult to access paperwork needed to file an appeal.
HMRC had suffered little prejudice as a result of the delay. Measured against that was the prejudice to the importer of having to pay a significant sum in tax without being able to pursue an arguable appeal. There were in any event good reasons for the delay and the balance came down firmly in favour of the importer.