Should Working Together be disbanded?

Last month HMRC made an announcement that appears to have gone unnoticed among the majority of the accounting profession, or if it was noticed its importance has been missed, says Jennifer Adams.

The announcement confirmed the disbanding of three of the five groups originally set up to liaise and consult on issues arising from the HMRC Agent Strategy. The Joint Tax Agent Strategy Steering Group (JTASSG), the Agent Engagement Group (AEG) and the Joint Initiative on Service Delivery (JISD) have all gone. The reasons given were duplication of work: unsurprisingly, the same concerns were being raised whichever group was consulted.

The different groups were found to be either unnecessary or had diverged from their original purpose. Such was the speed of the disbandment that minutes of meetings that have taken place have already been consigned to the archive section of HMRC’s website.

What remains?

Now the contact between the agents who work for HMRC’s ‘customers’ and the higher echelons at HMRC will be more direct. They are (in order, from the ground up): the Working Together (WT) groups; the Issues Overview Group (IOG); and the Joint Initiative Steering Group (JISG). This direct link can only be to taxpayers/practitioners’ advantage.

The work of the IOG is specifically to collate issues brought to the attention of HMRC’s representative at WT Group meetings and to consider whether those issues are important/relevant enough to pass higher up the chain for consideration. The IOG obviously has more than enough work as it uses a scoring spreadsheet to weight the viability of each issue presented, ranking in order of impact, gravity and importance.

The overview group usually only considers similar issues raised by more than one WT group, the groups receiving feedback should the issue be deemed not important enough for further consideration. JISD issued updates on its work - written in non- jargon, which make interesting reading on what exactly is happening within HMRC.

Working Together groups – anyone interested?

Evidence of the profession’s lack of understanding and interest is not hard to find. AccountingWEB member johnjenkins confirmed what many think: “Keeping in touch with agents. We’ll continue to use existing channels to communicate with you and gain feedback. Now what channels are they again? Oh yes there aren't any.”

Register for free with AccountingWEB.co.uk and log in to see the full article, which covers:

 

  • Composition of a WT group
  • The work of a WT group
  • What you can gain from participating in WT groups
  • Should WT groups stay or should they go?

What are your experiences of Working Together, and do you think it should play a more significant role in the new look HMRC consultative landscape? Come and join the debate.

Continued...

» Register now

The full article is available to registered AccountingWEB members only. To read the rest of this article you’ll need to login or register.

Registration is FREE and allows you to view all content, ask questions, comment and much more.

Comments

Working Together Groups - Should Stay    4 thanks

Peter Windatt | | Permalink

I met with an accountant on Tuesday afternoon.  I like meeting accountants as some 65% of my work is introduced by them.  I mentioned to him my meeting that evening with my (Milton Keynes) WT group and I asked if he had any issues. Not surprisingly, perhaps, he did.  We went through those issues and, being a bear of little brain, I made some detailed notes.

At the later meeting that evening, I raised both issues.

The following day I was able to call the accountant back and, to a large extent, satisfy him as to what is being done and why.  One matter was resolved and the other was a known problem with a small % of cases where a "ticked box" was not having a desired effect and refunds were being paid out where they should not - this is an outstanding issue and I was able to refer to the detail.

I am involved with a good number of regional ACCA events and at most of these I am afforded the opportunity to mention my role in the WT group (MK being my second group) I invite contact - I am more than happy to be a conduit.  Whilst I am a qualified accountant I moved over to the dark side some years prior to qualification and have been involved full time in insolvency ever since (1985).  I would like to think that, as such, I'm better able to raise questions like the little boy in the Emperors New Clothes.  For me to understand the issues I have to work a little harder than someone working full time in these areas.  By the same token the HMRC team has to work equally hard to satisfy me that their answers are acceptable.  I am perhaps less accepting of the answer that "that is just the way it is".

All my exchanges and all my minutes etc. are shared with my WT Coordinator at ACCA HQ and should anyone have a query that they would like taken to the next meeting (in 3 months) I would be happy to take it forward.  They may need to explain it twice, however.

 

Old Greying Accountant's picture

Voice recognition ...    1 thanks

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

... will solve the call answering debacle as people will give up calling.

When I have to call a line I will not shout inanely at a machine, I just hit hash until I get a person or a menu.

Voice recognition

Peter Windatt | | Permalink

The answer/suggestion re when best to call (re SA issues) was 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning...  Any use?

johnjenkins's picture

@Peter Windatt    2 thanks

johnjenkins | | Permalink

If your issues are getting resolve why aren't ours and why is HMRC in such a mess? I will tell you why. It's because they listen, then do nothing about it. Why? because our approach is based on common sense and theirs is based on control. "Agent strategy" should have happened last year and we are still waiting. Why? because HMRC would, in their suspicious little minds, lose control to us fiddling, corrupt Agents.

We don't need HMRC. All we need is a collection department with an investigative unit attached. Leave the rest to us including employment status.

Nothing will happen though except more power will be given to HMRC with the result that we will just be given a bit of "pocket money" from the state. Come on Farage, surely you can do much better than these showers.

DMGbus's picture

WT needs resources

DMGbus | | Permalink

The impression that I get is that Working Together could function well if it had the resouces committed to it.

When I've read minutes of WT I have often seen agenda items carried forward, perhaps repeatedly.

Somethings appear to have been painfully slow in achieving results (eg. Ltd Co CIS tax repayment claims). [Rather like local transport authority meetings ... "the wheels turn exceedingly slow"]

My conclusion from the above is that there's a resource issue.

  • The resource issue requires more time input
  • There needs to be an Urgent Issues Task Force [UITF!] (eg. RTI problems) to fast track serious matters requiring a swift resolution
  • More frequent meetings of WT are required
  • Participants should be adequately remunerated / compensated for their time input
  • HMRC should entirely fund WT and by this I mean the remuneration / compensation due to taxpayer / advisor side participants
  • I justify the funding being entirely from HMRC on the basis that participants are there to help HMRC make their (sometimes) broken systems work

I've only ever had direct involvement with WT once (and only at a local level), this was in the early days of HMRC systems using address look up / postcode matching.   The feedback via WT, possibly from incompetent IT partners was along the lines of "we know it's complicated so just keep trying".  Now, several years on, the problem is still there unresolved - HMRC / WT effectively have allowed incompetent programmers wriggle out of putting right their defective programming.

Here is a very specific example.  An Industrial Estate has unit numbers 1 to 30.  My client is at unit number 12.  HMRC's dropdown list misses out unit numbers 11 to 22.   HMRC's programmers are so confident (arrogant) that their system is perfect that manual override is not permitted, so either select wrong unit number, do VAT reg'n in paper form or register client for VAT using a home or accountants address (then later do a paper VAT484 to put it right).  Even when using the accountants address in a multi-storey building not allowed to select / have the option to select "4th Floor" or similar - HMRC's poorly programmed system just has about 12 identical line entries for the building name, no floor number or room number selections possible.   Before anyone says that HMRC's address /postcode system is using identical data to Royal Mail Postcodes, let say that this is absolutely NOT the case - in my "Unit 12" problem I was able to find Unit 12 on Royal Mail but not in HMRC's state.  I even provided screen grabs to WT, but no, it is the case that HMRC programmers are seemingly immune from having any oblgation to do the job right!

 

 

 

 

johnjenkins's picture

@DMGbus    1 thanks

johnjenkins | | Permalink

They don't need resources. They need a Minister that is prepared to "trust" us and give us the opportunity to prove that we can live up to "The Profession". Instead of collectors spending time on chasing for corp tax that should have been settled with CIS deductions. I really do pity the ordinary people that work for HMRC their working lives must be hell.

bookmarklee's picture

Is there really this widespread belief?

bookmarklee | | Permalink

old greying accountant wrote:

...the widespread belief that “the only agent ‘representatives’ they listen to represent the top 5% (at least that is the impression I get) which have a completely different view the 95% of the rest of us.

I do wonder whether this really is a widespread belief. Ten years ago when I last had frequent discussions about WT there were no reps from larger firms. And, if I recall correctly, the reps were from small practices that seemed largely unaware and disconnected from the work of their professional bodies.

I find it hard to believe that things have changed that much.

 

Mark

 

programmers

the_Poacher | | Permalink

HMRC don't have programmers. These are provided by the private sector at great expense

Old Greying Accountant's picture

@Bookmarklee ...    1 thanks

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

bookmarklee wrote:

old greying accountant wrote:

...the widespread belief that “the only agent ‘representatives’ they listen to represent the top 5% (at least that is the impression I get) which have a completely different view the 95% of the rest of us.

I do wonder whether this really is a widespread belief. Ten years ago when I last had frequent discussions about WT there were no reps from larger firms. And, if I recall correctly, the reps were from small practices that seemed largely unaware and disconnected from the work of their professional bodies.

I find it hard to believe that things have changed that much.

 Mark

 

... I didn't really mean WT had reps from the big boys, I agree witth John, HMRC listen attentively to WT and then ignore what it hears and listen to the big boys  who have direct access higher up the food chain!

If HMRC and DWP had engaged with and listened to small practices we wouldn't have the complete abortion of a piece of legislation that is the AE timebomb which will be going off shortly - the single most f*ck-wit produced piece of legislation I have ever seen which seems designed to line the pockets of financial services firms and does not address any of the real issues - and those below the LEL, probably in part-time work because they are carers for family members - will still have no pension provision. it has a cack-handed method of operation which will put enormous strain on small businesses and bury them further in red-tape, when had it been approached properly and with consultation with payroll providers it could have been oh so easy!

johnjenkins's picture

@Mark

johnjenkins | | Permalink

Given the time span that WT has had, what have they really achieved? Sod all apart from a few areas, which they shouldn't have had to do in the first place.

Take a look at "agent strategy" absolutely brilliant idea, as was WT - now what. 

But then if you can dip into tax payers bank accounts there is no need to find out what we think. Believe me Mark this will not only apply to the big boys who won't pay it will eventually apply to all tax payers. So who needs to be a preferential creditor, certainly not HMRC.

They are becoming so divorced from the rest of the community it's untrue. Maybe that is their strategy.

Still Alex will have a job as head of HMRC when Scotland say no.

Paula Sparrow's picture

Institutes and large firms    1 thanks

Paula Sparrow | | Permalink

bookmarklee wrote:

old greying accountant wrote:

...the widespread belief that “the only agent ‘representatives’ they listen to represent the top 5% (at least that is the impression I get) which have a completely different view the 95% of the rest of us.

I do wonder whether this really is a widespread belief. Ten years ago when I last had frequent discussions about WT there were no reps from larger firms. And, if I recall correctly, the reps were from small practices that seemed largely unaware and disconnected from the work of their professional bodies.

I find it hard to believe that things have changed that much.

 

Mark

 

 

I have been a member of our local working together group for 8 years.  You are right that the members are from smaller firms, but I wonder whether it is the reps from the smaller practices that are largely unaware and disconnected from the work of the professional bodies, or whether it is the professional bodies that are disconnected from their less "important" members?  As a prime example, we were told at the last meeting that there was a change of policy whereby HMRC would release a repayment due to the client under one head of tax, even though there was a balance outstanding under another head of tax.  This apparently had been agreed by the Institutes.  On a commercial level this idea is simply insane.  Why would you repay a client money overpaid on their audit work when they owed you money for Tax Returns...it is simply not common sense?

 

Disband WT - total waste of time

iain.mcgregor | | Permalink

I have attended WT meetings and it is a total waste of time and totallly boring.  They don't even serve lunch now. HMRc prattle about penalties but do nothing to act on suggestions from us (suggestion for P11D to include reimbursed expenses not a taxable benefit never acted upon leading to numerous coding errors)

cut to the quick

dmmarler | | Permalink

I had years of experience of Working Together groups in the early days, and recognise the  scenario where things kept coming back onto the agenda unresolved.  However the WT reps all came from firms and I was the only one from industry - so the groups were hardly representative of the whole spectrum of professionals working with HMRC.  I doubt this has changed.

There is another more fundamental problem which needs to be addressed - the whole tax system is too complex and not fit for purpose.  Business should be concentrated on making profits not spending huge sums on compliance, etc.

Working Together?    1 thanks

Jack the Lad | | Permalink

As an old grey accountant (started in 1958 so maybe even before Old Greying Accountant !), and somewhat cynical now, perhaps HMRC should stop calling taxpayers "customers" (since when did customers have NO choice ?!), stop paying lip service to "Customer Service", stop wasting money on such pointless excercises, and start employing people with intelligence and proper training, who are taught to treat taxpayers' accountants with some respect ? 

Iain McGregor is right, and they are NEVER going to do anything about P11Ds and the long list of matters and problems which need to be addressed which are just carried forward to the next agenda.    This is just a PR exercise, which we can all see through.

The "good old days" are long gone when you could phone an Inspector, discuss a problem or contentious issue, and get a decision.  They are old grey inspectors who are retired or no longer employed or have gone to the "other side", ie practising accountants !

It is very frustrating to someone like me who has seen better times with HMRC. Maybe I should retire too ?!

WT should stay    1 thanks

Marion Hayes | | Permalink

I feel that the meetings form a useful feedback system between us and HMRC.

Quite often things like Agent Strategy are delayed as a result of our feedback because we don't know what we want to happen really so the feedback is ambiguous.

Queries are passed back, and solutions are then passed around the contacts of the reps. Perhaps there should be a different way of spreading the information.

At our next meeting I will be complaining about the use of Embargoes on the issue of code numbers. Apparently none are being posted at the moment until 7th August because they are so busy they would not be able to deal with the calls etc - but they are being sent to employers and operated and explanations given by the call centres vary. One of my pensioners I help through Tax Help for Older People was told this week that they weren't going to be sent any more because she could see them online. She was very upset, and is not in self assessment so it wasn't even true.

It is not all broken so we have to continue to try to talk to each other and HMRC and protect the bits that are not broken, moan about the bits that are, and have constructive suggestions not just insults.

 

johnjenkins's picture

Sorry Marion

johnjenkins | | Permalink

not only is it broken it's beyond repair. We know it, HMRC know it. So they resort to taking tax payers money when ever they feel like it.

We have made contructive suggestions. I went to the original "agent strategy" seminar and was suitably impressed. Then what - sod all and you wonder why the insults. WT and "agent strategy will be abondoned because most Accountants have seen through the crap and control HMRC are trying to put on us and HMRC know it. The "con" of treating agents as if HMRC care has been blown.

It will very soon be "them and us" but on a very agressive footing.

@jack the lad. I know just how you feel. I find I am picking every little detail out of HMRC'c letters and methods and having a pop. Pathetic, I know, but whta else is there

Them and us    1 thanks

Jack the Lad | | Permalink

Re Johnjenkins comment, it has been them and us for many years.  They brought in "Working Together" as a sop when they realised the aggression had gone too far.  Unfortunately it has not worked in my (and many others') opinion, and I couldn't agree with Johnjenkins more.

WTI VAT group

djbrown | | Permalink

I was a member of the VAT section in the south west about 15 years ago and found it very useful - and I believe that we achieved quite a lot, whilst it was in existence.  Then, one day, someone decided that the VAT meetings should be merged with the tax meetings.  What was the point of that?  To my knowledge, none of the VAT participants joined the main meetings and an excellent line of communication was lost.  Although it now doesn't affect me, I assume that another line of communication will be lost if all WTI groups are disbanded.

In closing, although I am a CIOT member, I wasn't even aware of the WTI forum - how many other members are there who are blissfully unaware of this?  Hardly surprising that there is a lack of feedback.

YOU ARE BEHIND THE TIMES JAA ADAMS!

david5541 | | Permalink

Have you not read my post in theaccounting web working together E group? what or why does your article get circulated by email? and mine gets hidden in the mire of this site?

JAADAMS?

david5541 | | Permalink

jennifer adams do you work for HMRC?

HMRC don't love us anymore!

B.R. | | Permalink

I remember when a local WT meeting was interesting and challenging - there were maybe ten in the room, five HMRC and five agents - we had a useful discussion - that was then.........

Now, there's six or seven agents and one HMRC person - on a good day maybe two HMRC.

A   friend was involved in a consultancy exercise operated by one of the big four, but initiated by HMRC to interview HMRC personnel throughout UK and one of the key questions queried  how operational staff related to "agents". The outcomes were shocking! Her findings showed a complete disdain approaching despite prevailed!

 

JAADAMS's picture

Never worked for HMRC...

JAADAMS | | Permalink

I have never ever worked for HMRC.

In my article I was trying to give a balanced view as the HMRC WT people do their best, with, as everyone I think appreciates -  little in the way of resources. Some things have been achieved via suggestions from this side.

 

 

John Stokdyk's picture

No conspiracy or collusion... just trying to raise the issue

John Stokdyk | | Permalink

@david5541 - I don't think your outburst at Jennifer Adams (JAADAMS) is quite fair. She brought your comment to our attention and used it as a springboard to report on her experiences in her article.

I accept that we should have spotted your post earlier and treated it as more of a news announcement. I'm sorry we missed it at the time, but we thought Jennifer's approach was worth following to get other members talking about Working Together.

So please give her credit for giving more prominence to your announcement in the Working Together eGroup. Having started the debate, perhaps you can give us an update on what has happened since then, and where you think AccountingWEB members should focus their efforts if they want HMRC to respond to their day-to-day issues?

Groups

AndrewV12 | | Permalink

Who would have thought all those groups were working together i have never heard of half of them. 

kevinringer's picture

Links with Agent Issue Resolution Service

kevinringer | | Permalink

I make frequent use of the Agent IRS (see https://online.hmrc.gov.uk/shortforms/form/AAMIssue?dept). This is an excellent HMRC service which has solved numerous issues I have put to them. It is designed to solve client-specific issues an not generic issues handled by WT. But IRS staff will probably see patterns in issues so I was wondering whether IRS is involved in WT? By the way, the IRS are not receiving enough issues from Agents a there is a risk they may be closed down. Why aren't we all using IRS?

Old Greying Accountant's picture

I only went to one meeting ...

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

... the HMRC staff were there under sufferance and none of them had a clue about what running a business meant, they were all civil service lifers with the mindset that comes with it, all they had to say was "tax payers should put money aside to pay their tax on time" - yeah right, out the the regular amount that magically appears in their account each month, regardless of how many days sick or holiday they have taken off!