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HMRC terms and conditions

What really happens when you don’t pretend to read the terms and conditions?

We’ve all been there. ‘Click to confirm that you have read and understand the terms and conditions’, and a link to said terms, which would fill a small county’s phone book. Do we ever read them? Of course not. Who could? If we really did, we’d be spending a few hours a day reading forms – and frankly not understanding them anyway. But almost always, we click ‘agree’, and hope we haven’t bound ourselves to something horrible, half expecting we someday will.

Neil Garrod, a self-employed barrister, found out what happens when you just don’t ‘agree’. He was attempting to file his VAT return online, and was confronted with the demand that he bind himself by the terms and conditions, and he refused to do so.

The terms and conditions comprised 12 A4 pages of small print. To be fair, a barrister might be expected to ‘understand’ it all where anyone else perhaps would not, but just reading that much material closely would literally take several hours. Mr Garrod felt that it was wrong of the government to dragoon him into donating those hours, and simply skipped it. He filed a paper return in the old way, and went on with his life.

Of course, there was some fallout. He was slapped with a £100 fine for failing to submit online, and as he has had some success in the past with taking HMRC to court, he did so again.

He succeeded this time as well. The judge ruled that the HMRC had no power to impose legislation upon a taxpayer by demanding that they agree to T&Cs to use their services. As Mr Garrod should not have been compelled to click the box, and he could not have filed without doing so, the HMRC could not fine him either.

So, dare we hope this is the beginning of the end for arcane T&C agreements? Probably not.

Thanks for reading, Paul