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Cite as: [2009] UKFTT 00008 (TC), [2009] WTLR 793, [2009] UKFTT 67 (TC), [2009] STI 1801, [2009] STC (SCD) 479

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    Cairns v Revenue & Customs [2009] UKFTT 67 (TC) (30 March 2009)

    Inheritance Tax; administration and collection; executor as personal representative delivering account of heritable property of deceased; whether account incorrect; whether incorrect account fraudulently or negligently delivered; failure to declare that value of property was a provisional estimate; penalty; powers of the Tribunal; mitigation; Inheritance Tax Act 1984 sections 216, 247, 249 and 253
    - and

    Special Commissioner: J GORDON REID Q.C., F.C.I.Arb

    Sitting in public in Edinburgh on 6 November 2008

    for the Applicant J McArthur, Glllespie Macandrew LLP, Edinburgh

    for the Defender C Ryder, Inspector of Taxes, HMRC




  1. This is an application by the Commissioners for HM Revenue and Customs ("HMRC") for the imposition of a penalty on Gordon Cairns, solicitor in his capacity as personal representative of the late Victor Webb (the "deceased") who died testate on 12/10/04. The application arises out the of value placed on the deceased's residence, Stonefield, 22 Park Road, Eskbank, Midlothian ("Stonefield"), in Form IHT 200 (which contains an inventory of the deceased's estate), and is brought under section 249(4) of the Inheritance Tax Act 1984.
  2. A Hearing took place at Edinburgh on 6th November 2008. John McArthur, solicitor, Gillespie Macandrew LLP, Edinburgh appeared on behalf of Mr Cairns, the defender. Mr Cairns gave evidence. Colin Ryder, an HMRC inspector of taxes appeared on behalf of HMRC. HMRC led no evidence. An Agreed Statement of Facts was produced. HMRC lodged a bundle of documents. The authenticity and where appropriate, the transmission and receipt of those documents was not in dispute.
  3. Statutory Background
  4. Section 216 of the 1984 Act provides inter alia as follows:-
  5. (1)....... the personal representatives of a deceased person ........
    shall deliver to the Board an account specifying to the best of his knowledge and belief all appropriate property and the value of that property.
    (3A) If the personal representatives, after making the fullest enquiries that are reasonably practicable in the circumstances, are unable to ascertain the exact value of any particular property, their account shall in the first instance be sufficient as regards that property if it contains-
    (a) a statement to that effect
    (b) a provisional estimate of the value of the property; amd
    (c) and undertaking to deliver a further account of it as soon as its value is ascertained
  6. Section 247 provides inter alia as follows:-
  7. (1) If any person liable for any tax on the value transferred by a chargeable transfer fraudulently or negligently delivers, furnishes or produces to the Board any incorrect account, information or document, he shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding the difference mentioned in subsection (2) below.
    (2) The difference referred to in subsection (1) above is the amount by which the tax for which that person is liable exceeds what would be the amount of the that tax if the facts wee as shown in the account, information or document
  8. Section 249 provides inter alia as follows:-
  9. (1) All proceedings for the recovery of penalties under this Part of the Act shall be commenced by the Board or, in Scotland, by the Board or the Lord Advocate.
    (2) Any such proceedings may be commenced either before the Special Commissioners or in the High court or the Court of Session and shall, if brought in the High Court, be deemed to be civil proceedings by the Crown .....
    (4) Proceedings under this section before the Special Commissioners shall be by way of information in writing made to them, and upon summons issued by them to the defendant (or defender) to appear before them at a time and place stated in the summons, and they shall hear and determine each case in a summary way.
  10. Section 160 of the 1984 Act makes market value the basis for the valuation of property. Section 200(1)(a) imposes liability for inheritance tax on the deceased's personal representatives. Section 216(6) requires delivery of the account to the Board within about 12 months after the deceased's death. Section 217 provides for remedying defective accounts. By section 226, the tax is due approximately six months after the date of death (here, the due date was 1/5/05) and the tax requires to be paid on delivery of the account. Section 233 imposes liability for interest on tax due but unpaid, from, in effect about six months after death. Here, interest was payable on any unpaid tax from 1/5/05. Provision is also made for payment of tax by instalments and interest thereon (sections 227 and 234). Here, an election was made to pay by instalments. Section 250 imposes a time limit for recovery of penalties referred to above. The period is three years from date of notification to the person liable for the tax properly payable. Here, the date of notification was 26/4/07. In fact, the notification intimated a refund of tax.
  11. Section 253 entitles HMRC to mitigate any penalty. Here, HMRC were prepared in correspondence to mitigate the penalty by about 80%, reducing the sum specified in the Information of 33,559.51 ultimately to 5,000.
  12. Commencement of Proceedings.
  13. By letter dated 1/4/08 to the Clerk to the Special Commissioners HMRC enclosed an information and draft summons. The information alleged that Mr Cairns had fraudulently or negligently delivered, furnished or produced to the Board an incorrect account, information or document relating to value transferred by a chargeable transfer as required by section 216 of the {1984 Act}. The information sought a penalty of 33,559.51.
  14. The summons signed by another Special Commissioner on 21st August 2008, recorded inter alia that as personal representative of the deceased he was required under section 216(1) of the {1984 Act} to deliver to the Board an account specifying to the best of his knowledge and belief all appropriate property in the deceased's estate and the value of that property. It proceeded to narrate the allegation contained in the information and concluded that Mr Cairns had rendered himself liable to a penalty under section 247(1) and (2) as amended. Mr Cairns was summoned to appear before the Special Commissioners on 6/11/08.
  15. Apart from attaching extracts from the relevant legislation, the summons, which had the flavour of a summary criminal complaint, contained no further specification whatsoever of how or in what respect Mr Cairns had acted fraudulently or negligently. The account or document to which these allegations related was not even identified.
  16. Relevancy and Specification of the Initiating Documents.
  17. Mr McArthur submitted that the summons was wholly lacking in specification and should be dismissed. I agree. The information originally laid before the Special Commissioners under section 249(4) and, more importantly, the summons served on Mr Cairns did not contain any specification whatsoever of the charge being laid against Mr Cairns. This is an important document. It could, if established, have significant consequences for Mr Cairns both financially and professionally. The penalty sought for an alleged but undisclosed act of negligence or fraud was substantial. It is beyond dispute that if this summons is to be treated on the same footing as a summary criminal complaint or, more to the point, a civil summons for payment of a debt or damages, (as the proceedings are deemed to be civil proceedings) it would be dismissed for want of specification; and that notwithstanding that the case has to be heard and determined in a summary way.
  18. Mr Ryder argued that the summons had been preceded by lengthy correspondence and that Mr Cairns knew perfectly well what the issue was and why the penalty was being sought. There was therefore no prejudice. I cannot accept that argument. The relevancy of summary criminal complaints and civil pleadings are not tested in this way. Frequently, the recipient of a summons or complaint will be aware of the background but that is, in general, of no moment, where the initiating document lacks any semblance of specification or basic detail. For example, complaints against solicitors are frequently preceded by lengthy correspondence before they reach the stage of a formal complaint being considered by the appropriate disciplinary body. In Council of the Law Society v M&W, unreported 16/1/75, noted in Smith and Barton Procedures and Decisions of the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal, the Lord President stated in his Opinion that when the Council of the Law Society proceeds to define the precise act of professional misconduct alleged against a solicitor, that definition should, like a Summary Complaint or a charge in an Indictment, contain within itself all the ingredients necessary to disclose the offence. In my view, that statement is applicable to the present proceedings. It seems to me that the prejudice lies in the fact that the initiating document, be it summons, summary complaint or indictment must set out the parameters of the enquiry, and the essential facts and basis in law upon which the public authority relies. If it does not do so, there is bound to be significant prejudice or the risk of such prejudice. It cannot be determined where the enquiry will begin or end. How does a court or tribunal control the scope of the proceedings or the admissibility of evidence or determine the relevancy of the legal arguments unless these basic parameters exist at the outset? It is difficult to see how there could be a fair hearing for Convention purposes without these basic parameters.
  19. It is important, too, to note that neither the 1984 Act nor the Tribunal's rules provide for any form of procedure between the date of issue of the summons and the date of the hearing therein specified. With a summons as vague as the present summons, virtually any aspect of the contents of the account delivered by the personal representatives could be raised. That offends the almost universal principle that a person in the position of Mr Cairns is entitled to fair notice of the allegations being made against him and a reasonable opportunity to respond to them. Something more than the bare words of the relevant statute are required to ensure that fair notice is given (King v Williams 2004 SLT 955 at paragraph 10).
  20. It would have been a simple matter to flesh out the Information and summons with at least a modicum of specification. It is in stark contrast to the information and summons in Robertson v IRC 2002 STC (SCD) 182 at 190a-191f and 192d, which contained a considerable amount of detail, although even it omitted to mention certain specific matters which the Revenue wished to raise. In R v Havering Commissioners (ex parte Knight) 1973 TC 161, an information was laid before the General Commissioners containing eight counts. These are not specified but parts of the ensuing summons are quoted at pages 170-171. I infer that the information and summons contained considerably greater detail than the information contained in the present summons.
  21. I should add that my views are not affected in any way by the fact that the summons is, in terms of section 249(4) of the 1984 Act, issued by the Special Commissioners. This is a purely administrative act by which the summons reflects the material contained in the information. The practice is, as I understand it, for HMRC to append a draft summons to the information. That was done in this case. It cannot be for the Special Commissioners to make substantial revisions to the material produced and by a process of drafting create a relevant and specific summons. It might have been better in this case if the Special Commissioners had simply refused to issue a summons in terms of the draft presented to them on the grounds that the information which was reflected in the draft summons was a wholly inadequate basis upon which to commence proceedings which might have serious financial and professional consequences particularly as those proceedings appeared to involve bare allegations of fraud or negligence.
  22. In my opinion, therefore, the summons falls to be dismissed on the grounds that it is wholly lacking in specification. That is the end of the application. But in case I am held to be wrong on this aspect I shall consider the merits of the application.
  23. Facts
  24. The following narrative is derived from the evidence of Gordon Cairns and an Agreed Statement of Facts.
  25. Mr Cairns qualified as a solicitor in 1981. Since then he has been in practice initially as an assistant and since 1983 as a partner. Conveyancing and executry work have been his principal areas of practice. He has acted as executor on literally hundreds of estates over the years ranging from the very small to the very large; he has particular experience in dealing with elderly clients. He has tutored in the Diploma in Legal Practice course at Edinburgh University since 1989; he has been the Diploma Conveyancing examiner for ten years and is a member of the University's Board of Examiners. He was in 2004 and subsequently experienced and skilled in acting as an executor and for executors, and in fulfilling personally and on behalf of others the duties of executors in winding up estates in accordance with the law of Scotland.
  26. In 2003, Mr Cairns was asked by Midlothian Council to act as the deceased's Guardian. The deceased was then residing in Roslynlee Hospital, but was anxious to return home to Stonefield, which he owned. Mr Cairns was duly appointed on 25th November 2003 under the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000. He drew up an Inventory of the deceased's estate which had to be lodged with the Public Guardian. Part of that estate included Stonefield. Mr Cairns instructed a valuation. Barr Brady, chartered surveyors, Edinburgh and elsewhere, valued Stonefield on 23rd January 2004 at in the region of 400,000 which was stated to be an arbitrary figure pending investigations as to costs involved in upgrading.
  27. The valuation was heavily qualified. It pointed out (as Mr Cairns already knew, having visited the property) that Stonefield was in an extremely poor condition. It suffered from wet rot, dry rot, rising damp and structural defects in the roof; the report recommended specialist investigation of inter alia timber infestation and decay. Internally, the house was filthy and full of memorabilia and rubbish. The garage was falling down; a tree was growing in it. Access to the house was difficult. The garden was a mess. Part of it was or had been an orchard, and there were many (over a hundred) broken panes of glass strewn about. Mr Cairns engaged a tradesmen to clear out the garden and attempt to make Stonefield wind and watertight and one room habitable. This cost about 10,000. In the course of these works about 20 large skips of materials and garden refuse were removed from Stonefield, mainly from the garden ground. This work did not make a significant difference to the overall state, and condition of Stonefield. Nevertheless, the deceased returned to live there with his son, Andrew who had learning difficulties.
  28. In spite of the clean up operations, Stonefield was still in a very poor state and condition in October 2004. Only one room was habitable. The kitchen was very basic. The water supply was possibly contaminated. The particulars of sale subsequently produced, although mentioning the need for substantial renovation cast the property in a favourable light. Viewing the property revealed the true picture and the property's potential if a significant amount of money were spent on its renovation. Such properties are difficult to value and reasonable views on their market value may differ widely.
  29. Mr Cairns was unable to obtain insurance for Stonefield at a reasonable premium. Several insurers requested a valuation and on seeing the Barr Brady valuation, declined to offer to insure. That remained the position until Stonefield was sold following the deceased's death.
  30. The deceased died on 12th October 2004, aged 89 years. Before he retired he was, curiously, a Chief Examiner with the Estate Duty Office (later the Capital Taxes Office) of the Inland Revenue in Edinburgh. In terms of that Will, half of the residue of the estate was bequeathed to the deceased's Family Trust, which had been created in 1998. The other half was to be held on liferent for one of the deceased's sons. On his death the fee was to pass to the Family Trust. The deceased's son, Andrew, continued to reside at Stonefield until local authority housing could be provided from him.
  31. Mr Cairns, in the usual way, began the process of applying for confirmation. As it appeared that Inheritance Tax would be payable, he sought and obtained a bridging loan from the Bank of Scotland.
  32. Form IHT200 were signed by Mr Cairns on 28th April 2005 and lodged with HMRC on 29th April 2005 with a cheque for 30,000 in part payment of the Inheritance Tax liability. The IHT 200 form included Stonefield at a value of 400,000. Mr Cairns was genuinely uncertain of the true value of Stonefield. He considered that the existing valuation was sufficient meantime. He knew that it would be likely that the price at which Stonefield was ultimately sold, would probably be agreed, in due course, with the District Valuer, to be the date of death value. He reasonably considered it unnecessary to go to the expense of obtaining a further valuation which would probably be heavily qualified and may not be any more accurate than the existing valuation. There was no evidence of any significant increase in the value of properties in the locality between January 2004 and October 2004. He was aware that interest would run on the tax due, from 1st May 2005 in accordance with section 233 of the 1984 Act.
  33. Form IHT200 (at page 8), signed by Mr Cairns on 28th April 2005, contained the following declaration:-
  34. "I have made the fullest enquiries that are reasonably practicable in the circumstances to find out the open market value of all the items shown in this account. The value of items shown in boxes [Stonefield was not included here] are provisional estimates which are based on all the information available to me at this time. I will tell IR Capital Taxes the exact value(s) as soon as I know it and I will pay any additional tax and interest that may be due."

    It would have been prudent to describe the value attributed to Stonefield as a provisional estimate. The failure to do so was, in the circumstances, careless.

  35. Meanwhile, Mr Cairns had instructed his property manager to look at the property and to market it for sale. She did so and recommended advertisement at offers over 500,000. She had fourteen years experience of the property market in the locality. It was so marketed in early April. Mr Cairns was present when prospective purchasers viewed Stonefield. This was because the deceased's son Andrew insisted on being present. There were a number of notes of interest. 5th May 2005 was fixed as a closing date. Six offers were received ranging between 425,000 and 695,00. The highest was accepted. Missives were concluded on 31st May with entry on 29th July 2005. However, the purchaser defaulted, and the transaction fell through. HMRC were so informed in July 2005, and advised that Stonefield would be re-advertised. The HMRC response, by letter dated 27th July 2005, was to note that the District Valuer must still consider the date-of-death value... regardless of any subsequent sales. But he will of course take the (sale) into account when considering his values. Stonefield was subsequently sold at the fixed price of 600,000.
  36. After the sale, a cheque for 158,860.04 was sent to HMRC, based on an HMRC estimate of the tax due. This was to cover any additional liability for inheritance tax. However, there was still some doubt as to the full extent of the deceased's estate. In the event, that sum was too much and some tax was refunded as noted below.
  37. Mr Cairns was justifiably surprised at the spread of offers. He took the reasonable view that Stonefield needed about 250,000 to 300,000 to be spent on renovating including re-wiring, major roof repairs, window repairs, rot and damp work treatment, rebuilding of the garage, and internal modernisation and decoration; he reasonably estimated that on completion of the renovation works Stonefield would have a market value of between about 700,000 to 800,000.
  38. By about mid-December 2006, the District Valuer had agreed the date of death value of Stonefield at 600,000. The value of the estate for Inheritance Tax purposes and the Inheritance Tax liability were subsequently agreed and an assessment made and issued on or about 26th April 2007. The tax payable was agreed at 122,843.60 and a repayment of 64,418.17 (including interest) was made to Mr Cairns as executor of the deceased (while these figures are difficult to reconcile with the sum of 158,860.04 mentioned above, all these figures are taken from the Agreed Statement of Facts. Such discrepancies as may actually exist do not matter for present purposes).
  39. Discussion
  40. The questions are (i) whether Mr Cairns furnished an incorrect account and (ii) whether he did so fraudulently or negligently. Fraud is out of the question. That leaves negligence. The onus is on HMRC. The standard of proof is the balance of probabilities (R&C v Khawaja 2008 STC 2880 at 2890h; 2891g, Robertson v IRC 2002 STC (SCD) 182 at 194d). HMRC led no valuation evidence; they led no evidence as to what a prudent representative would have done in the circumstances. Such evidence might have come from a solicitor experienced in acting as and on behalf of executors in winding up estates. A valuer might have been led to show that a more positive, precise and exact {cf. section 216(3A)} valuation of Stonefield could have been obtained in October 2004. No such evidence was led to contradict the evidence of Mr Cairns, himself an experienced solicitor in the purchase and sale of residential heritable property, and executry practice.
  41. I found his evidence to be credible and reliable. He gave his evidence in a clear and straightforward manner and I have no reason to doubt his professional abilities or integrity in relation to these proceedings. It seemed to me that he acted perfectly sensibly and reasonably throughout. Indeed, he appears to have done considerably more than his duty as personal representative required him. He befriended the deceased's son, Andrew and personally attended to the viewing of Stonefield in order to keep an eye on Andrew who insisted on being present.
  42. The argument for HMRC was ultimately that Mr Cairns should have obtained another professional valuation or "revisited" the Barr Brady valuation. However, standing the evidence or lack of it, and the factual background which I have set forth, this is bare assertion and cannot be correct unless the statutory duty requires a professional valuation to be obtained in every case around the time of the deceased's death. Mr Ryder for HMRC did not go that far. It was argued under reference to Havering Commissioners (above) at page 174 I to 175 that what occurred constituted wilful default and that section 247(1) embraces careful breach of duty as well as careless breach of duty. That may well be so but in each case there must be established that the account was incorrect and negligently delivered. I refer to what I said in Robertson v IRC 2002 STC (SCD) 182 at 197g-j. Here, the mere failure to obtain another valuation when it has not been established that a second valuation would have led to a different figure being inserted in the statutory form does not constitute negligent delivery of an incorrect account. It is not and could not be suggested that a prudent personal representative or even a solicitor acting as such should have foreseen when completing the statutory form that Stonefield was likely to sell for 600,000 or even 500,000. The fact that by April 2005 a decision had been taken to advertise Stonefield at offers over 500,000 is by no means conclusive. Properties are frequently advertised at significantly in excess of their perceived value in order to test the tone of the market and the extent of the interest in them.
  43. Each case must be considered having regard to its own particular circumstances. The statutory phrase in section 216(3A) refers to what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances. I refer to Robertson at page 196f-197a. Negligent conduct amounts to more than just being wrong or taking a different view from HMRC (AB v HMRC 2006 UKSPC00572 7 December 2006). The fact that Mr Cairns subsequently agreed that the ultimate sale price should be treated as the date of death value of Stonefield, does not mean that the account was negligently furnished. Here, there was a valuation, heavily qualified. There is no evidence before me to indicate that a different valuation could have been obtained between October 2004 and April 2005 when the account was furnished. On the evidence before me, even if it were concluded that an incorrect account was delivered or furnished, it is simply not possible to conclude that it was negligently delivered or furnished except in one minor respect.
  44. That minor matter is that it should have been declared in the account that the value specified for Stonefield, based as it was on a heavily qualified valuation, was a provisional estimate. Omitting to do so was a careless error. However, it was minor, technical and of no consequence whatsoever. It had no effect on the dealings between HMRC and Mr Cairns as executor. Stonefield was sold. HMRC were kept informed. They, in effect, reserved their position as to whether they would regard the sale price as the date of death value. The tax was duly paid, indeed overpaid and a refund eventually paid to the deceased's estate.
  45. I must therefore conclude that if I had not dismissed the summons on the grounds that it was wholly lacking in specification, I would have concluded that there had been a narrow, technical failure to comply with the provisions of section 247(1). The account was incorrect. The sum of 400,000 should have been described as a provisional estimate. It was not. That failure was negligent. For the purposes of section 247(1) it does not matter that there was no loss to HMRC. The subsections does not require it.
  46. This is however, a failure of the merest technicality. A proportionate response by HMRC would have been to do no more than point this out and would certainly not have led to the imposition of a substantial penalty or the institution these present proceedings.
  47. Powers
  48. A question arose as to the extent of my powers. Under section 249(4) of the 1984 Act, the Special Commissioners are to hear and determine each case in a summary way. There is no express provision entitling the Special Commissioners to increase or reduce the penalty. By contrast, on appeal to the court on a question of law, or against the amount of any penalty awarded, the Court of Session may, under section 249(3) either confirm the decision or reduce or increase the sum awarded. The reference to the sum awarded seems to be a reference to the proceedings before the Special Commissioners. HMRC do not award a penalty. Under section 247, liability to a penalty is incurred in certain circumstances and proceedings are taken for the recovery of penalties. I infer from these provisions, as well as section 251 and 252, that in awarding a sum I have, in effect, power to reduce or increase the penalty. Mr Ryder accepted that I at least had a discretion to recommend an increase or reduction to which effect would presumably be given, subject to any appeal to the Court of Session.
  49. Had I concluded that the allegation of negligence in the summons had been relevantly set out with sufficient specification, I would have, in the circumstances, reduced the penalty to a nominal amount or recommended that it be so reduced. Mr Cairns acted throughout in good faith. Any finding of negligence would have been the merest technicality. There was no loss to HMRC whatsoever. there was instead an overpayment, which was subsequently repaid. Mr Cairns co-operated fully throughout. There was full disclosure of the assets of the estate. It was made clear to HMRC at an early stage that Stonefield was to be sold and it was ultimately accepted that the sale price should be treated as the date of death valuation, which is, I understand, commonly done, perhaps for the sake of peace and to secure a Capital Gains Tax advantage rather than anything else.
  50. Disposal
  51. The summons is dismissed. If I am wrong to dismiss it, then I would have concluded that there had been a narrow, technical failure to comply with the provisions of section 247(1). In those circumstances, I would have reduced the penalty to a nominal amount or recommended that it be so reduced. There will be no award of expenses due to or by either party unless an application for expenses is made within 28 days of the release of this Decision.
  52. J GORDON REID Q.C., F.C.I.Arb.
    RELEASED:30 March 2009

    SC 2015/2008

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