The Adjudicator's Office (AO) will investigate specific cases and come to a decision. In certain circumstances this decision can also be challenged. I suggest referring a case to the AO when you feel that relevant issues have not been considered properly.
The first thing to do is to send a covering letter, and 1 or 2 of your most recent dispute letters (the ones written by you, not HMRC) to this address to get the process started:
The Adjudicator’s Office
PO Box 10280
When the AO first receives your complaint / dispute they may respond to say you 'have not completed the two tier dispute process'. This can be frustrating, particularly if you feel you have done. But it would be easier to send the following template letter to HMRC to make sure the next response confirms you have indeed completed 2 tiers of dispute.
Once the Adjudicators Office accepts you have done 2 rounds with HMRC they will first of all acknowledge receipt of your complaint, then eventually follow it up by letting you know they have written to HMRC to ask for a report.
HMRC will eventually respond directly to the AO with a report that outlines how they feel the overpayment occurred, and why they feel it is your fault. The AO will send you a copy and ask you to respond.
Note: If the AO give you an unreasonably short time frame within which to respond with your comments, do not be bullied into rushing your response. If you cannot make the deadline, write back to the AO to complain that this is unreasonable, unfair, and prejudicial to your defence. Instead, say that you will respond within 6 to 8 weeks.
Use the letter that you sent to HMRC in Dispute Step 2 to help remind you of the relevant events and write a response that highlights each point you disagree with. Include any relevant information or context such as family emergencies, ill health etc. that was happening at the time of any events / dates mentioned.
Remember to keep your points relevant. The Adjudicator's remit is to look into issues on the following points; mistakes, unreasonable delays, poor or misleading advice, inappropriate staff behaviour and failure of HMRC to stick to their given policies (i.e. COP26). This last is more the main issue to raise in most dispute cases.
Remember to focus on the parts HMRC are seeking to blame on you and which you can rebut, and anything relevant they are attempting to brush over (i.e. misadvised, failure to act on information provided, etc).
Again it is common to receive a partial success in response to this stage. Just having to write their report, knowing the AO will be going through it, often makes HMRC admit errors that so far they have denied responsibility for.
Once they have the HMRC report and your comments, the AO will rule on a decision. The Adjudicators Office will contact you to give you that decision. It may be that they find in your favour, or that they are notifying you that they do not 'uphold all or part' of your complaint. They should also explain why.
It's getting more common (in stronger cases) to get a personal phone call from the AO to say they find in your favour and asking if you accept. I'm unsure as to why it is handled like this. It seems both HMRC and the AO want to skate over the reasoning for the write-off decision.
When I previously tried to push for an explanation, on principle, where we were being offered a write-off anyway, I was told 'not too rock the boat'! It seems that basically these calls are part of an unofficial dispute round giving HMRC the chance to back down without clearly stating why or accepting responsibility. The AO seem to be complicit in this.
It's possible this method is solely to speed up dealing with a huge backlog, but I still think it dodgy and benefits HMRC for the wrong reasons.
If you do not accept the AO's decision, it is possible to respond in writing to the AO complaining of any issues that you feel have not been considered fully, or that you feel the decision is unreasonable. Although, if these particular issues have already been addressed by the AO, they are unlikely to change their stance.
If you experience demands from HMRC to repay during disputing please see our page about Harassment.
If justice still hasn't been done, it's time to move on to the Parliamentary Ombudsman in Dispute Step 5.