This is part thirteen of our serialisation of an IR35 enquiry. To access the previous parts please visit our IR35 Chronicles Index.
It took around six weeks for the notes of meeting between Mr D Turpin of HMRC and Ms Fiona Pilkington and Phil Jacobs of BIG IT, to be typed up, despatched, agreed, signed and returned by the BIG IT representatives.
Ms Pilkington, being the typical meticulous and over cautious legal eagle, went through the notes herself several times, then with Phil Jacobs and then asked another colleague to review them independently and finally requested BIG IT's own tax team to cast their eye over them, before finally agreeing the contents!
Accompanying the signed notes were copies of a blank 'Skills Checklist', 'Induction Confirmation' form and Staff Handbook that Fiona Pilkington had neglected to give to Turpin after the meeting had terminated.
During this time, Dee Fender had contacted the Status Inspector on several occasions to ascertain when she and her client might expect to hear from Mr Turpin again. Each time she had been rebuffed by Turpin who informed her that he would contact her again as soon as he had received BIG IT's verification that the notes of their meeting reflected a true and accurate view of what was discussed.
Dee requested a copy of the notes once these became available but was refused as Turpin explained that he had to respect the wishes of BIG IT who wanted to retain confidentiality. Voicing her displeasure, Mrs Fender pointed out that as Turpin had asked questions specific to her client’s affairs, Neil Down should be entitled to know exactly what was being said about him. Turpin refuted this by explaining that much of the meeting revolved around the working arrangements and practices that existed for all contractors engaged by BIG IT and few specific questions had been asked about Mr Down.
Fender further argued that the Revenue would have to provide a copy of the notes should the matter end up being decided in a tax tribunal. Whilst Turpin expressed that it was his wish that this should not be necessary, he maintained that it was his statutory obligation to respect and preserve taxpayer confidentiality and until such time that BIG IT consented or upon the case going to a tax tribunal, the notes could not be shown to Neil Down.
An increasingly frustrated Mrs Fender then asked Turpin if he had formed any opinion yet as to the employment status of her client. Turpin said that he had not although the evidence to date suggested that IR35 may well apply. He did, however, temper this statement by saying that there was still further information he wanted, particularly from Neil Down, and therefore still remained open minded.
With this in mind Turpin enquired whether Fender's previous offer of a meeting was still open. Although she was not averse to the suggestion Fender told the Status Inspector she would have to refer to her client and respect his wishes, which Turpin accepted.
After Dee Fender had finished her conversation with Mr Turpin she telephoned her client to provide him with an update. Since the Revenue's meeting with Pilkington and Jacobs of BIG IT, Neil had become increasingly agitated and had been contacting Dee on a weekly basis for news of any developments and for some reassurance. He had also been making his own enquiries at BIG IT, trying to tease information out of co-workers whom he felt had influence at BIG IT and may have been privy to certain knowledge.
He had, however, drawn a blank except that he discovered that there were a number of other contractors also being investigated by Turpin, all at varying stages of IR35 enquiries. When Neil informed his advisor of this, Dee Fender then realised why Turpin had been asking mainly generic questions of BIG IT rather than specific questions about her client.
Turpin's strategy was to deal with these IR35 enquiries as a job lot and to tar every contractor with the same brush. Neil asked if there was any way they could force the Status Inspector to hand over a copy of the notes of the meeting but apart from lodging a complaint about Turpin's attitude there was little Dee Fender could do.
Mrs Fender then asked Neil whether he wanted to meet with Turpin. Whilst Neil was keen to resolve matters as quickly as possible he was also becoming very wary of the Revenue official and had reservations about Turpin's methods.
Fender reassured him that her attendance at any such meeting would ensure that Neil's interests were protected at all times and that she would act as an interventionist when necessary. Despite this Neil still remained sceptical and sensing this Mrs Fender told him that he was perfectly within his rights to continue matters on a correspondence basis.
Neil felt more comfortable with this suggestion as this would allow him time to consider questions posed and respond more eloquently rather than feeling pressurised in a face-to-face meeting and end up saying the wrong thing. On this basis, Fender said she would write to Turpin asking him to put his information requests and questions in writing.
Correspondence between Fender and Turpin crossed in the post. Turpin advised Mrs Fender that the notes of meeting had now been returned, mainly unaltered, and that he would now like to arrange a convenient meeting time and date. Five days later a further letter was received from the Status Inspector acknowledging Mr Down's request and to expect an information request within fourteen days.
Through an exchange of e-mails Dee Fender informed her client of the latest round of correspondence to which Neil responded by asking his advisor if there was any information that she needed from him but was told it would be more expedient to wait and see exactly what the Status Inspector wanted.
Next week: More Q & A's