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HMRC is threatening my terminally ill father with debt collectors

<span>The small amount of tax owed is actually paid, but due to a slip-up HMRC thinks it is owed £4,800</span><span>Photograph: Graham Turner/The Guardian</span>
The small amount of tax owed is actually paid, but due to a slip-up HMRC thinks it is owed £4,800Photograph: Graham Turner/The Guardian

HMRC has threatened my terminally ill 92-year-old father with debt collectors over an erroneous tax bill, 38 times what he actually owed.

The problem began when, due to visual impairment, he entered the tax paid on his pension in the wrong box on his 2022-23 tax return. He is required to submit a return each year due to a small pension he received from five years working in Spain.

An HMRC agent confirmed over the phone that the tax due is, in fact, £126 and he duly paid on time.

However, he received no written confirmation and, since November, all further attempts to communicate with HMRC to correct the error have been ignored, resulting in him becoming locked into a series of auto-generated letters asking him to pay over £4,800 and warning it is accumulating interest.

This has caused huge distress.

JP, London

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Your father is a retired accountant who has hitherto managed his financial affairs without a hitch.

He realised he’d entered the wrong figure, in the wrong box, as soon as he received the £4,834 demand and wrote an explanatory letter last November. He never received a response.

I’ve reviewed his interactions with HMRC since then, and despair.

Over the last seven months he has written letters and spent hours on hold with HMRC’s understaffed help­line trying to explain the mistake. Each time, an agent confirms he does not owe the sum, and tells him that an administrative backlog is delaying written confirmation.

Each time, he assumes that the problem is sorted, only to receive another demand weeks later. His payment for the £126 he did owe was cashed with contrasting speed in January, but there seems to be zero communications between HMRC departments.

Your father is terminally ill and, while I was dealing with his case, he was admitted to hospital, where he remains. It is unconscionable that HMRC has caused him such needless distress during the time he has left. And it is infuriating that it was able to acknowledge, and correct, the error as soon as it realised a headline was looming.

It gave no explanation for the seven-month delay, merely stating that when it was informed of the error it referred the case to its technical team for review.

It still can’t promise that the demands will cease but tells him to ignore them. Nor did it comment on the backlog that its agents talked about, or the apparent disconnection between its departments.

It says: “We’re writing to the customer to apologise profusely, and confirm that the debt on his record has been cancelled. We are sending him a redress payment for the distress caused.”

You have conveyed this to your father as you keep vigil at his hospital bedside, and say that it’s relieved him of one intolerable burden.

Email your.problems@observer.co.uk. Include an address and phone number. Submission and publication are subject to our terms and conditions