Ad watchdog takes action against tax repayment agents

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Ads for three tax agents have been banned for exaggerating refunds, being unclear about fees and failing to mention that clients were signing over rights to a cut of potential repayments from previous years.

All three advertisers – trading as The Tax Hero, Fast Track Reclaim and Total Tax Refunds – misleadingly implied that their free online tools would confirm whether customers were entitled to a refund from His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The ads exaggerated the refund payable to consumers, as well as not making clear that the agents would deduct a fee from the refund, while two of the three advertisers – The Tax Hero and Fast Track Reclaim – failed to make it clear that, in using their services, customers would be allowing the agents the ability to make claims for repayments on their behalf for previous years and take a cut.

Last year, HMRC published a consultation on how to protect customers and increase transparency around claiming tax repayments.

New legislation will end the use of legally binding ‘assignments’ that consumers could only end if both they and the agent agreed to do so, and which allowed agents to file claims and take fees from repayments outside of their initial terms of the agreement, without the customer’s request.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it was ensuring that advertisers within the sector were treating customers fairly.

Miles Lockwood, ASA director of complaints and investigations, said: “Financial services like those offered by tax repayment agents can be highly complex, and it’s vital consumers understand what they’re getting into.

“That’s why we’re pleased that HMRC is bringing in timely legislation to tackle this issue and increase clarity and trust. We will continue working in partnership with HMRC on this issue.

“These rulings make it clear to tax repayment agents that they need to provide transparent information about these services and avoid misleading consumers. They need to make it clear what costs are associated with their services, and whether the legal benefit is transferred from the consumer to them.

“We’re monitoring the situation, and we’re considering further enforcement action in this space in the near future.”

Jonathan Athow, HMRC’s director general for customer strategy and tax design, said: “The ASA’s rulings will help stop firms from issuing misleading advertising about tax refunds. This is another step taken in tackling unscrupulous agents.

“People should be cautious about promises of easy money – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Customers can claim tax refunds directly from HMRC, ensuring they get 100% of any money due.”

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