HMRC’s decision to penalize a homeless man for missing to complete his tax return on time has been described as a scandal by a judge, who found he should not be penalised for missing the deadline.
Krzysztof Pokorowski, a self-employed electrician, faced penalties adding up to £1,600 after failing to file his 2014-15 tax return by the date it was due. His appeal against the fines was heard at a tribunal in December.
Pokorowski, who represented himself, told the court he had ended up on the streets after losing his job and exhausting his savings, and that his documents had been lost or stolen after he was evicted from his home. HMRC had replied that it was his responsibility to inform them of a change of address.
Judge Nicholas Aleksander, who heard the case, 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.”
During the judgment, Mr. Pokorowski described how his life had started to disintegrate after he returned from a trip to Poland in April 2014. After losing his home he eventually started sleeping on the street until Christmas 2016 when he was told about a homeless shelter, and then in January 2017 he moved into a hostel.
In April 2017 Pokorowski found a job and permanent accommodation, and he filed the tax return three months later.
But in the meantime, reminder letters and penalty notices were sent to his last known address. These were supposed to notify him of a £100 penalty for late filing, £900 worth of daily penalties and two subsequent £300 penalties.
Anyone who misses the tax return deadline for filing can be charged £100 and then £10 a day for up to 90 days. There are then other sanctions after six and 12 months.
Individuals can appeal against the penalty if they have a reasonable excuse.
HMRC could also reduce the penalties depending on circumstances, but it argued that the situation of Pokorowski did not qualify, and it was his responsibility to notify it of any change of address.
In his decision, Judge Aleksander reject HMRC’s arguments, and found that Pokorowski had a reasonable excuse for missing the deadline, and that he had deposed without unreasonable delay once he was back in accommodation and employment.
He said: “I find that HMRC’s decision that Mr Pokorowski’s circumstances were not ‘special’ to be penalized.
“Being homeless and having to sleep on the street has to be ‘something out of the ordinary run of events’ … No HMRC officer acting reasonably could have reached a decision that Mr Pokorowski’s circumstances were not ‘extraordinary’.”
HMRC said it was writing to Pokorowski and seeking into redress. A spokesman 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.”