Small businesses have secured a major victory against the taxman in a dispute over filing their VAT online. In a ground-breaking decision, Judge Barbara Mosedale held that rules which required firms to submit their VAT returns over the internet were unlawful. This was because HM Revenue & Customs had not provided an exemption for those who could not file online.

Two of the business people who contested the law have disabilities that made it difficult or impossible for them to use a computer. The third lives in a remote area of the UK where broadband access is unreliable. All were older, which made learning how to use a computer difficult, and they would have had to incur the cost of instructing an agent. They had all filed their VAT returns promptly and accurately on paper for many years. A spokesman for the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, which supported the businesses in their case, says: ‘This shows that HMRC must consider the needs of taxpayers when making regulations about complying with VAT and other tax requirements.’ 

Caroline Abrahams, director at charity Age UK, says: ‘This is a very welcome decision that recognises people should not be forced to submit forms online.

‘The provision of government services should be inclusive and recognise the needs of disabled and older people.’