A beekeeping couple from Cornwall have won the right not to file VAT returns online due to religious reasons at a first-tier tribunal.
HMRC lawyers maintained that in Blackburn & Anor v Revenue & Customs  UKFTT 525 (TC), Graham and Abigail Blackburn, members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, chose out of personal preference not to file online.
But the couple insisted that using a computer was against their moral and religious beliefs.
Tribunal judge Barbara Mosedale ruled in favour of the couple, saying that by refusing to exempt them from filing returns online, HMRC had breached their right to freely manifest their religion under article nine of the European Commission of Human Rights.
“Having heard Blackburn’s evidence, I accept that using a computer, or having an agent use it on their behalf, is contrary to Mr and Mrs Blackburn’s religious beliefs.
“I find that by entirely shunning computers, the Blackburns considered they were acting, as the Bible required them to do so, in accordance with their religious conscience,” she said, handing out the ruling.
Graham Blackburn told Bodmin Law Courts how he and his wife rejected the internet, computers, television and mobile phones in their home. The pair run their beekeeping business, Cornish Moorland Honey, in Bodmin, Cornwall.
He also said that it was against his religion to use external computers, such as at the library, or get someone else to use it on his behalf as it was “as much against his conscience” as owning one.
Blackburn argued that this wasn’t personal preference, as he believes that during the second coming of Christ, that only the righteous will be saved and in order to be this, he and his wife needed to shun computers and television in accordance with the Bible.
If the couple had lost the appeal, they said they would have voluntarily de-registered for VAT, leading to a financial loss.
The judge ruled in favour of the appellants as she saw that they were acting on their religious conscience and “manifesting their religious beliefs.”
The Revenue could appeal the decision if they see fit. But head of VAT at Gabelle Vaughn Chown said HMRC could struggle if they do.
“If HMRC continues the personal belief argument, are HMRC not imposing their own beliefs?” he asked.
“Clearly the appellants adopt the same approach with regard to all walks of their lives. Not sure why HMRC didn’t just make an exception in this case and let it sit quietly, but perhaps that is because there have been a few cases that have been at the tribunal.”
AccountingWEB members commented on the case in Any Answers, with many members lauding the couple for standing up for their right to live by their religious values.
“It’s a good enough reason, and other reasons might have been equally valid. A result to be applauded I say,” Andy Partridge said.
But other members, such as Locutus, said religious beliefs were being used in this way.
“If we all form our own cult or religion, will that mean we can do what we want?” he asked.
On HMRC’s website, it states that people can be exempt from filing VAT returns online if:
You are subject to an insolvency procedure – but if you’re subject to an approved Voluntary Arrangement, administration or trust deed you may submit online if you want to
HMRC is satisfied that your business is run by practising members of a religious society, whose beliefs prevent them from using computers