A taxpayer recently lost his appeal to a tax tribunal to overturn penalties of £1,300 incurred after he ignored emails from HMRC that he thought were spam. In this article, Jill Springbett sets out what you should do if you receive an email or message that purports to come from HMRC.

I often hear from clients about a message they have had that purports to come from HMRC, asking me to check if the message is genuine. Almost always the message has not come from HMRC – but sometimes HMRC does send messages on specific subjects.

Scam calls, emails and messages

Fraudsters will contact people by phone, email, text message, WhatsApp message and even on social media claiming to be HMRC. Often the scam involves saying the victim is due a tax rebate or refund. Communications will appear to come from an HMRC email address or phone number. Last year, for example, a woman from London was tricked into transferring £2,900 to scammers after being told she had been “randomly selected for auditing”.

HMRC says it will never send notifications about tax rebates or refunds by email, text, WhatsApp message, or via social media. It advises people not to click on any website links, download any PDFs or open any attachments as these may contain malicious software. It goes without saying that you should not disclose personal, bank or financial information.

The case of Mr Smith

The case I referred to above involved a Mr Smith who ignored emails that he believed were spam from an HMRC email address. Sadly for Mr Smith, the emails were genuine and were requesting that he file a self-assessment tax return. He failed to do so and incurred penalties of £1,300.

The First-tier Tribunal rejected Mr Smith’s argument that he had been verbally told he didn’t need to file a tax return and hadn’t received a valid notice to file one. The tribunal decided that HMRC had issued a valid notice by email and rejected his appeal against the fine. The tribunal said he should have read the emails before deleting them even though they bore a similarity to spam emails.

In this case, Mr Smith had specifically opted for paperless contact from HMRC. This meant that rather than HMRC sending letters by post to him, it posted notices in his online personal tax account and sent emails advising him when a new message had been posted.


The message is to check what you’ve opted for when you set up the account, so you’re prepared. Just as taxpayers should not ignore letters from HMRC, those taxpayers who have signed up to paperless contact should not ignore emails. Even though there is an understandable wariness of spam, the process is designed to limit this by not asking taxpayers to click on a link in the email, but instead to log in separately to their online account.

If you are in any doubt about whether an email or message is genuine, you should email phishing@hmrc.gov.uk for verification.

If you have any concerns about a communication from HMRC, please contact me at jill.springbett@mgr.co.uk.

Warning: The above is merely general guidance and should not be relied upon as formal advice. The advice we give to each client will depend on their specific circumstances. We suggest you take professional advice before taking any action in relation to the issues discussed above.