Judges overturn High Court ruling saying mistake by local tax office went 'beyond an administrative mistake'

A builder who said his business almost collapsed after delays in getting a subcontractors tax certificate has won part of the case in the court of appeal.

Judges said an action by an employee at Neil Martin’s local tax office went “beyond an administrative mistake” made in the ordinary course of processing the application and that they owed a common law duty of care to him.

The employee at Barrow-In-Furness tax office completed Martin’s CIS3 form as an application for a CIS4 registration card, rather than a CIS6 subcontractors tax certificate.

This lead to a ten-day delay within an overall delay of three months, between June and September 2004.

The overall delay was caused by a catalogue of errors including wrong advice being given about whether he could use his sole trader accounts, his application being lost and wrongly processed, and documents being sent to the wrong address.

The appeal against other errors was rejected on various grounds relating to the liability of the HM Revenue & Customs, but the ruling on the individual reversed the earlier findings of a High Court judge.

Martin has been pursuing the case on the grounds that the delays resulted in a loss of business and cash flow problems.

His initial claim was rejected but after intervention from a member of parliament HMRC paid £300, although the company’s losses exceeded £400,000.

Either party could now petition the House of Lords to appeal the decision.

Rupert Choat, a partner in CMS Cameron McKenna, said: “I don’t think it opens the floodgates by any stretch of the imagination, but it does give people a stick to beat someone working for the revenue.”

Martin needed a CIS6 certificate from HMRC so he could convert from a sole trader to a company and be paid gross without tax deducted.