Lancashire universities’ first UK student-run tax helpline gets results

30 October 2020

Collaborative initiative saves clients more than £15,000

The first student-run clinic in the UK for people seeking advice on tax issues has proved to be an effective asset for clients. So much so it is to be a permanent telephone-based service.

The North West Tax Clinic (NWTC), provided free and confidential tax advice to people on low incomes and the undergraduate and postgraduate students, under the supervision of professional tax advisers, managed to save £15,000 of client money.

The clinic, the first of its kind in the UK, is run by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), Lancaster University and national charity TaxAid, which provides free, confidential tax advice to people on low incomes.

It opened its doors in January 2020 as a ten-week pilot and, from this week, will roll out on a permanent basis. (Wednesdays and Fridays 10.00am to 4.00pm).

During the pilot, students successfully navigated the choppy waters of technical tax advice and covered common problems including submitting tax returns and appealing HMRC late filing penalties.

Overall, 12 students engaged with 25 clients. The students saved clients more than £15,000 in cancelling incorrect charges and securing repayments.

They also provided longer term benefits for clients (and HMRC) by correcting PAYE codes and explaining how they could fulfil their continuing obligations.

Student volunteers answer a dedicated TaxAid telephone helpline (0300 222 5736) as a North West outreach branch of the London-based charity.

The team, eight students from each university, provide the first line response to calls from local people seeking help with tax concerns on the run-up and beyond the tax return deadline in January.

"We found that our student volunteers were able to communicate with our clients in a clear, accessible way – they translated the jargon of tax into plain English."

UCLan's David Massey, Lecturer in Taxation

Their primary role is to listen to the caller and understand the issue comprehensively.

This is then presented to the student team, managed by David Massey, a former Inland Revenue Inspector and member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation and Lecturer in Taxation at UCLan and Dr Amy Lawton, a Lancaster University Law School lecturer, who specialises in tax law.

After consultation the students, a mix of final year undergraduates and postgraduates in Law from Lancaster and postgraduates in Finance and Accounting at UCLan, either provide a letter of advice to the client or arrange a telephone meeting to collect further details under the supervision of David Massey.

Volunteer tax professionals from local accountancy and tax practices will help to supervise the students.

Any time-hungry or complex issues are passed on to TaxAid.

“Our students demonstrated that they possessed the maturity and competence to draft tax advice to the clients,” said Dr Lawton.

“The benefits of being detached from the tax profession mean that our students, while well-developed, are not yet indoctrinated into the technical tax language that comes with experience in the tax field.”

Added David Massey: “We found that our student volunteers were able to communicate with our clients in a clear, accessible way – they translated the jargon of tax into plain English. This is especially important when dealing with individuals who have a limited exposure to the tax world.

“The NWTC allows us to bridge the gap between our local communities and the tax system in an approachable and accessible way.”

A comment from the client satisfaction survey said: “Absolute relief at not having to ring HMRC myself and getting the guidance and support to stop the tax fines which have been scaring me to death. Looking forward to receiving info on how to complete tax returns in future!”