It means that you cannot obtain information from a knowledgeable human being who can answer a question that you to you is very significant, but in reality is easy for a tax professional to answer.
I have been a VAT consultant for many years. Before I started my VAT Training/Consultancy practice, I worked for International Companies as the Indirect Tax Manager. These companies are provided with HMRC Business Liaison Officers to handle their extensive tax affairs. Therefore, a Tax Manager like myself could pose questions to the appropriate person should they want clarification about the treatment of a transaction, or understanding of the information in the HMRC written notices and Information on the website.
The small business does not have this luxury. They must go through the HMRC Helpline, either online or via the telephone. In the ‘good old days,’ the person on the other end of the phone may have been a specialist or a tax inspector who could give advice based on their working experience. Nowadays, you will speak (assuming that you can get through) to someone who is reading the same article as yourself with not much more understanding!
What can HMRC do to help small businesses? They could provide a dedicated helpline where the person on the other end is experienced in the workings of tax and who could give practical and the appropriate advice.
There is a saying that, if there are seven tax professionals/inspectors in a room debating an issue, they will give at least five different answers, all of will be correct.
Our tax legislation is based on court cases; therefore, you have to look closely at the components of the issue to get to an answer. The smaller business will not have access to a person for free and have to buy in advice from someone like myself. There is no longer the friendly HMRC adviser to speak to now that all the tax offices have been closed. There is no substitute for ‘face-to-face’ advice. There is an overload of information on the website that is totally confusing to the lay person, who just needs someone with whom they can discuss the issues.
If you want to run an issue past me, you can go onto my website and “Ask Ann”.