There is an old adage that ignorance of the law is no excuse. However, as tax laws become increasingly complex, and in many respects beyond the comprehension of ordinary taxpayers, a by-product is that taxpayers cannot be expected to know the law in any detail. They require and should be entitled to receive reasonable assistance from the tax authority to enable them to comply with tax legislation. This can take the form of practice aids, guides, forms, access to specialists in the tax authority, and so forth.
Increasing complexity has the result that fairness demands that tax authorities be prepared to offer assistance to taxpayers in whatever form is appropriate in the circumstances. It is reasonable that general guidelines be provided for what a taxpayer or a tax advisor is entitled to receive as support from the tax authority. This taxpayer assistance should be addressed in published service standards and the tax authority should be responsible if the guidance has shortcomings. Special note should be made of vulnerable persons, where the level of service and guidance may be enhanced. Those drafting tax legislation, or designing reporting systems and tax forms, should take special note of the shifting ground of taxpayer assistance. For example, under a more comprehensive policy of taxpayer assistance, overly complex or vague legislation may "bounce" the problem, quite rightly, back to the tax authority.