Following the 2005 merger of the Inland Revenue and HM Customs & Excise, it clearly makes sense to bring together the appeals procedures so that there is a common system across the taxes.
The Tribunal Service itself has only been in existence since April 2006. The intention behind the creation of the Tribunals Services was to:
Ensure that Tribunals were visibly independent of original decision makers;
Make it easier for users to understand the process of seeking redress;
Bring improved quality and efficiencies of scale to the provision of administrative and management support;
Allow the implementation of a national organisation, with a regional structure promoting a strong local presence; and
Create an environment where best practice could be identified and developed throughout the organisation.
The Government has stated that the Tribunals Service has, from the outset, had a commitment to pioneering new ways of providing justice to the public. As part of the changes, the Government has established an Early Dispute Resolution Project.
This has been trialled in the Employment and Social Security Tribunal and the Child Support Tribunal. Mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution will be used increasingly in the justice system, and will be extended to the Tax Tribunals in due course. These pilots are designed to test whether alternative dispute resolutions techniques can be effective in resolving Tribunal cases, and to make recommendations about the role of these techniques as future mainstream services.
Hopefully, this will be an improvement on the current reconsideration procedures used in VAT (although it will be entirely new for Direct Taxes), which appear to have become something of a ‘rubber-stamping exercise’ over the past few years.
A recent survey for HMRC by KPMG showed the costs of going to Tribunal and the inadequate reconsideration process to be two major irritants to business. Sadly, HMRC’s stock response has been to say that these are not its responsibility, and are being dealt with by the Ministry of Justice. The Government states that the proposed Early Dispute Resolution proposals can provide more efficient and effective remedies, at lower cost and with less pressure on users. Only time will tell.