The first student-run clinic in the UK for people seeking advice on tax issues starts in Lancaster this month.
Lancaster University, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and national charity TaxAid, which provides free, confidential tax advice to people on low incomes, will run the 10 week-long pilot project from January 13 on Mondays (9am to 12pm) Fridays (9am to 4pm). The clinic will run until March 20 2020.
Student volunteers will set up and answer a dedicated TaxAid telephone helpline (0300 222 5736) as a North West outreach branch of the London-based charity from an office at Lancaster University Law School.
The student team, seven from each university, will provide the first line response to calls from local people seeking help with tax concerns on the run-up and beyond the tax return deadline in January.
Their primary role will be to listen to the caller and understand the issue comprehensively.
This will then be presented to the student team managed by David Massey, a former Inland Revenue Inspector and member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation and Lecturer in Taxation at UCLan and Dr Amy Lawton, a Lancaster University Law School lecturer who specialises in tax law.
After consultation the students, a mix of final year undergraduates and postgraduates in Law from Lancaster and postgraduates in Finance and Accounting at UCLan, will either provide a letter of advice to the client or arrange a face-to-face meeting to collect further details under the supervision of David Massey.
Any time-hungry or complex issues will be passed on to TaxAid.
The project, the first of its kind to be run by universities in the UK, follows similar projects in Australia and America.
Chief Executive of TaxAid Valerie Boggs said the clinic would provide support for people who were unable to afford professional help or unable to get help from HMRC.
In practical terms, she explained, they could sit down with a student, who, when supported by the University staff and TaxAid, would be able to provide help with tax issues.
This might be to review ‘often-bewildering HMRC paperwork’, to speak to HMRC on behalf of the taxpayer and then provide a plan to resolve the problem.
Or it might be to fill in forms, make appeals to HMRC about penalties or help the taxpayer negotiate a tax debt with HMRC.
“If issues are left unsolved, people can miss out on available tax relief or have the burden of living with tax debt when it is not necessary,” explained Valerie.
“TaxAid provides a telephone service nationwide, but this collaboration with the University of Central Lancashire and Lancaster University means the public can access a professional tax service face-to-face.
“For TaxAid this provides an opportunity for the charity to meet the ambition of ‘providing tax advice to all those who need it’ as the clinic increases the awareness in the North West of the tax expertise that is available free to all who need it.”