Supporting learning disabled people with their tax
How people with learning disability or difficulty face the greatest challenges with tax
As a charity, we support those who are vulnerable whether as a result of financial poverty or other factors and one of those factors is disability. Nearly half of all people in poverty are either disabled or live with a disabled person. 4 million people with disabilities in the UK are living in poverty, and 7 million are either living with a disability or with someone who is disabled.
In the UK, there are 1.5 million people with a learning disability, of which in 2019/20 only 4.8% of women with a learning disability and 6.2% of men were in paid employment. Yet we have a high incidence of learning disability or difficulty on our helplines.
Some of the most common learning disabilities and difficulties are Dyslexia, ADHD and ADD, Dyspraxia, Dysgraphia, processing difficulties and Dyscalculia. These difficulties can lead to attention problems, memory issues, impaired reading and/or writing, problems with maths and problem solving, poor organisational skills, difficulty with following directions or telling time, lack of fine motor skills or specific learning difficulty ( SpLD) which causes issues with particular parts of learning. These issues typically contribute to the low employment rates, for example, people with autism have one of the lowest employment rates.
I’m sure tax experts can imagine the huge hurdles those with learning difficulties face with their tax on reading this list of cognitive challenges. At TaxAid and Tax Help we are able to make comparatively simple interventions to transform the tax outcomes of those with learning disabilities and difficulties.
As an example, we were able to help Tony with some simple understanding of his PAYE situation, allowing us to advocate on his behalf. Tony had always struggled with dyslexia, but had other difficulties with COPD, heart disease and peripheral vascular disease. He contacted us in June 2021 as he had received a letter showing a tax underpayment of £246 for the tax year 2019/20. This was a complete surprise. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do or why he had received this demand.
The underpayment was due to a coding error, because he had received his pension and had ongoing PAYE employment. When his pension had started no code had been issued in respect of his ongoing employment and as a result his employer continued to use his code from the previous year, meaning that he had underpaid his tax in the year his pension started. As this error on his code continued into 2020/21 it meant that his tax for the year 2020/21 would be underpaid and the error continued in 2021/22. Tony had a low income and was unable to pay the tax underpayment.
Tax Help made an appeal on the grounds of hardship due to Tony’s vulnerability and low income. HMRC agreed that, taking into account Tony’s personal circumstances, they would not look to collect his underpayment. HMRC also agreed this approach for the underpayment that arose in 2020/21 and Tax Help ensured that Tony’s codes for 2021/22 were correct so that he did not have to worry about this any more.
This is a simple fix for a simple coding error, but for Tony it was transformational, because the paperwork and terminology was impenetrable and he couldn’t afford to pay.
Life can be challenging for people in the UK living with learning disabilities and difficulties, and from this, we can see why living with a learning disability can cause even the simplest tax problems to become insurmountable. When people call our helpline service we often find that tax is not their only problem, and other aspects of life can lead to tax problems and debts can pile up, causing stress and sleepless nights. We are able to offer patient, gentle support to help alleviate the tax anxiety in these already anxious lives.
Our helpline service is a vital way for us to provide help to people in poverty who are dealing with tax problems, including a disproportionate percentage who have learning disabilities or difficulties. Every donation we receive enables us to improve our service, operate the phone lines, work cases, and ensure that more people know we are here. We don’t want anyone to struggle through tax problems alone as are here and ready to help them thanks to your support.
This article has been written by Valerie Boggs, the Chief Executive of TaxAid and Tax Help for Older People.