In our second piece supporting Mental Health Awareness Week, we welcome Shahid Miah (Director of DPP Business & Tax) who over the years, has acted for a number of high-profile individuals, is recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners successfully defending company directors and professionals charged with serious fraud.
Brown Envelope Anxiety is a colloquial term used to describe the fear that can be induced when you receive communications from the likes of HMRC, which are of course, almost always in a brown envelope. Now, more than ever, is the best time of the year to bring attention to this condition, as around this period is typically the time that individuals are more likely to receive a brown envelope from HMRC through their letterbox.
This term can, and has been, used in trials as an impactful factor that could either deem a defendant unfit for trial or that can influence the outcome of their case. In a criminal case particularly, a trial with the defendant not being present or not going ahead can be likely, as it is deemed that their condition may influence the outcome of the case, as the defendant wouldn’t have the ability to instruct their legal team correctly. Brown Envelope Anxiety, of course, has to be a proven factor for this to happen.
We have had plenty of cases where it has been agreed that the defendant can’t stand trial because of a mental health issue. A lot of this tends to begin with, and stem from ‘Brown Envelope Anxiety’. For example, when HMRC start doing their investigations and when an individual with mental health problems receives contact (typically with a brown envelope on their doormat) this is noted as an impactful factor on their mental capabilities. A number of defendants have been registered as suffering from severe depression, sometimes to the point that medical examinations have deemed the person unfit for trial because they don’t have the capacity mentally to understand the proceedings against them. This all stems from that initial brown envelope. Their anxiety spirals out of control. Sometimes, people get caught up in situations, and when HMRC ask for money back, it inevitably leads to some sort of mental health issue in most cases as they not only start thinking about the criminality of the situation (i.e. the fear of going to prison), but also the fact that they’re going to lose potentially the roof over their head, let alone anything else. I mean, sometimes we can be talking about millions of pounds.
Quelling Brown Envelope Anxiety
The advice I would give in quelling Brown Envelope Anxiety would include, organising and keeping on top of your taxes – away from the end of the tax year, asking for advice in your tax affairs, always double checking your P60 information and also try and action the content of your letters as soon as you are able as if you leave it too long – you’ll continue to worry about it. To elaborate on this, I would advise the following:
- Organise your taxes away from the end of the tax year – Submitting your tax return can be one of the most anxiety-inducing processes. Especially if you’re self-employed and are filing your taxes independently. Many tend to leave taxes to late in the year and close to the deadline, but you can keep on top of them all year round. Use software to log your expenses and your details as you go – and submit your self-assessment in plenty of time to avoid that last-minute scramble that can trigger panic symptoms.
- Deal with brown envelopes at the right time – Another anxiety-inducing factor can be opening an envelope and not being able to do anything about it. For example, over a bank holiday weekend you won’t be able to phone anybody in response to your letter until they reopen. I would suggest keeping letters in a safe place until you know you can action them right away. Set a reminder to yourself so you don’t have to worry about forgetting to open them.
- Ask for a helping hand with your tax affairs – If dealing with taxes is something that you know triggers panic and concern, then there’s no shame in asking for a helping hand. Getting an accountant to file your tax return, or using some of the software available can reduce your chance of error and also mean that you don’t end up inundated with information and stress that could have been prevented. If tax returns don’t sit well with you, it’s worth it to seek assistance.
- Don’t leave it too long to open your mail, but also don’t rush yourself – If you receive a brown envelope on a day where you might be able to action its contents, such as a weekday, then I would suggest giving it notice sooner rather than later. Some might prepare to open the envelope, or might put it off in fear of what’s inside, but doing this may only prolong your apprehension. That being said, you shouldn’t force yourself to open the envelope right away, make sure it’s when you’re ready.
- Double check your p60 information – One reason that HMRC might need to contact you, is if your P60 details aren’t correct. Like my earlier point, one way to reduce trepidation in the days that get closer to your tax return, is to iron out any issues as early as possible. You could even start now for the next tax year! Check everything is in order throughout the year, with a focus on your P60, and submitting your tax return come April next year should be much easier, and with less risk of HMRC needing to contact you. The key things you should check to ensure your P60 is in order include:
- Forename and surname
- National Insurance number
- Payroll number
- Employment pay
- Total yearly pay
- Final tax code