§ Mr. Hastings
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many applications have been made under the provisions of Section 23(2) for an extension of the statutory time limit for the making of an election for separate assessment of wife's earnings; in how many cases the time limit has been extended; in what circumstances generally the Board of Inland Revenue agrees to an extension of the 581W time; and why this election cannot now carry the six-year time limit applicable to claims for personal allowances.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon,
pursuant to his reply—[Official Report, 12th June 1978; Vol. 951, c. 341.]—gave the following information:
About 16,800 applications for late elections or late withdrawals have been considered by the Inland Revenue head office since October 1973—the earliest date for late applications under the legislation—to 31st May 1978, of which about 12,200 have been admitted. Of these it is estimated that around 85 per cent. were in respect of late elections. In addition, local offices are authorised to accept late applications falling within certain criteria; there is no central record for these cases, but it is thought that the number so accepted is relatively small.
The Board of Inland Revenue ordinarily exercises its discretionary powers of extension in paragraphs (2) and (4) of Section 23 of the Finance Act 1971 in favour of cases involving the sickness or absence abroad of either spouse or other serious personal difficulties which prevented their prompt attention to tax affairs at the critical time, and also cases where, through no fault of the taxpayer or his advisers, relevant information was not available for reaching a decision within the statutory time limit.
On the hon. Member's final point, it is desirable that final liability should be determined without undue delay. The time limit for late applications was extended two years ago for 1975–76 and subsequent years, from six to 12 months following the end of the year of assessment concerned. There is at present no reason to suppose that this time limit, coupled with the board's discretionary powers, is inadequate.