Tax Return Blunder Has Dire Consequences for Public-Spirited Charity Donor

Making a mistake on your tax return can have extremely serious consequences and that is why it is always wise to take professional advice. In a striking case on point, the High Court declined to come to the aid of a public-spirited businessman who donated £800,000 to charity but entered only half that sum on his tax return.

The man made the donation on the anniversary of his wife's death. He said that he had initially considered a gift of £400,000 before changing his mind and deciding to donate double that sum. However, he mistakenly failed to update the figure in the software package he used to complete his tax return.

On realising his error, he sought to amend the return to reflect the full amount of the gift. His intention was to set off back-dated Gift Aid against £5.3 million which he had gained in the previous year on the sale of his shares in two companies. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), however, refused to permit the amendment and the end result was that he became liable to pay about £215,000 in additional tax, penalties and interest.

In those circumstances, the man launched proceedings, seeking rectification of the return. Pointing to his gift, his legal team argued that it was difficult to imagine a more glowing example of good citizenship and that the draconian and disproportionate consequences of his error revealed an illogical and capricious flaw in the tax regime.

Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that the man had submitted the tax return on the basis that its contents were correct and complete to the best of his knowledge. His error was not a small one and, given the importance of the matter, it was surprising that he had not checked the return before filing it.

The Court could not disagree with HMRC's submission that the error was a careless one within the meaning of Schedule 24 of the Finance Act 2007. The fact that the return did not reflect the relief that the man wished to claim was his mistake and the error was not one that engaged the Court's sympathy. Even on the assumption that the Court had jurisdiction to rectify the return, which was doubtful, the remedy was not one that should be granted on the facts of the case.