In John Pettitt v HMRC [2019] TC7451 reliance on a tax agent was not a reasonable excuse and late filing penalties of £1,935 were upheld by the FTT.

  • HMRC sent the taxpayer a Notice to File in 6 April 2017.
  • Mr Pettitt’s electronic return for the year was received on 31 August 2018, 7 months late.
  • £1,935 of late filing penalties under Schedule 24 FA 2007 racked up swiftly: £100 for 30 days late filing,  £900 in daily penalties, £300 for six months late and a tax geared penalty of £635 tax geared, a total of £1935.

The taxpayer appealed late and then his new accountants appealed. It was claimed that he had a reasonable excuse for late filing: reliance on a third party and made a request to have the penalty mitigated to nil as a special circumstance.

The FTT found that:

  • The taxpayer had changed tax agents and they tried to add themselves as the agent of the appellant on 10 October 2017. However, this was not properly done and they only succeeded in precipitating the removal of the old agent, a practice they were acquiring.
  • This meant that the appellant ended up with two agents neither of whom had the power to file his returns on time. 
  • The new agents claimed that they “had no choice but to file the …. return using our other practice’s credentials”. This did not work. It took a year for the new agents to resolve the situation and file a return.

The FTT found that reliance on a third party was not a reasonable excuse:

"The fact is that when a taxpayer has asked an agent to do something on their behalf, they are responsible for ensuring that the agent carries out the task. They cannot claim to have a reasonable excuse merely because they delegated the task to an agent to complete it. Reliance on a third party is not a reasonable excuse."

Finding no other special circumstances and the penalty was upheld.


Penalties certainly put pressure on tax agents. In this case they were buying the practice of the old agent at the time.

Useful guides

Penalties: SA late filing and payment
Worked examples and useful stuff

How to appeal tax penalties (subscribers)
Step by step guide to making a successful appeal

Grounds for Appeal: reasonable excuse (subscribers)
Reliance on an agent and other taxpayer excuses

Penalties: Grounds for Appeal toolkit (subscribers)
Checklist of other reasons to appeal penalties


External links

John Pettitt v HMRC [2019] TC7451