Last week the First-tier (Tax) Tribunal (the "Tribunal") announced that it was suspending hearings at which persons are physically present until further notice to facilitate effective social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Tribunal was willing to allow exceptional hearings involving physical attendance to take place but only if a judge decided that it was a priority case and necessary to do so in all the circumstances.
However, due to the stringent restrictions imposed by the UK Government on Monday evening, the Tribunal has decided to go further. Yesterday, the President of the Tribunal issued directions for a general stay on all proceedings for a period of 28 days from the date of the directions (until Tuesday 21 April 2020). In addition, all time limits in any current proceedings are stayed for the same period.
Any party to proceedings may apply for the new directions to be amended, suspended or set aside but, given the Tribunal (together with the wider judiciary) is operating with reduced administrative staff, a slowdown in its communications and processing timelines should be expected regardless.
The news will be frustrating for appellants who were looking for a swift resolution of their appeal, particularly those that have hearing dates within the next 28 days. The general stay of all proceedings will also extend the period of uncertainty for businesses as they seek to resolve their tax disputes. This is likely to have a knock-on effect on cash flow and future planning.
When the stay expires, the Tribunal will be faced with a significant backlog and appellants looking to progress their appeals would be well-advised to help themselves by streamlining their own case where possible.
To ensure that the amount of time lost is kept to a minimum, appellants should use the time afforded by the general stay to hone their arguments and gather as much additional evidence as possible. Appellants should consider approaching HMRC with settlement proposals and/or to seek agreement on certain points in the appeal. These discussions may also offer an insight into the priorities of HMRC and may present an opportunity for the case to be determined via ADR.
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Last reviewed: 25 March 2020