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Is Enforced iXBRL Legal?

Is Enforced iXBRL Legal?

Thankfully I am nearer retirement than most of you but have spent approaching 40 years in our profession mainly as a chartered accountant and still as a chartered tax adviser. By personal choice my client base is now modest so I do not have the fee income to justify investment in tip-top software packages but I do not see why I should essentially be required to do so to maintain my existing client service. I am sufficiently computer literate to have been the designated computer partner in practices of let's say 50+ staff so I remain fully capable of dealing with today's CT procedures, but why am I evidently given no choice but to have to incur significant expenditure in continuing to submit data produced within a format which is essentially unchanged?

Forgive me if this posting is verbose, but I am yet to come across any individual in our profession who had previously even heard of iXBRL let alone who had the faintest idea what it was all about. It is clear from numerous postings on this site that most if not all of you out there are experiencing extensive problems in complying with this new regime. For my part I am hoping to get through my handful of simple corporation tax cases by using the astonishingly poor online service provided by HMRC. To briefly demonstrate how bad it is, but acknowledging that this particular horse has bolted, my one effort to exclude HMRC's invention of the tax free online incentive for PAYE filing from a client's taxable profits earlier this year proved impossible. The system refused to allow a negative entry in its disallowables so it was quite simply impossible to use the service to submit the simplest computation and produce an accurate result. Even yesterday I discovered various simple matters which the system will not cope with yet HMRC maintain that it is suitable for straightforward cases, including unincorporated associations, members' clubs and the like. It is crystal clear to me that their service will be totally unable to deal with the latter in particular as it does not even deal with a company with a simple Small Pools allowance claim, let alone the usual member:non-member tax adjustments.

I am therefore prompted to ask for justification of the legality of HMRC requiring iXBRL submissions of accounts and tax returns from 1 April 2011 when it has not provided the necessary tools to comply with that apparent statutory requirement. In that context I would not really expect them to provide a failsafe method to do so as their current system proves that that is too difficult to achieve at even a basic level. However, these new requirements entirely deny the facility for the previous submission of paper returns to report CT etc liabilities. By deduction that means that organisations in the corporation tax environment have no practical option but to instruct agents who have invested in both software & the related training so as to allow their staff to deal with their CT affairs. How can HMRC have been allowed to create a system which gives the vast majority of taxpayers no other practical option at a time when all concerned are trying to reduce overheads in today's difficult economic climate?

As we all know, self assessment tax return submission for individuals still allows the submission of paper returns but that is now entirely denied for corporation tax cases. How can this possibly be appropriate as it effectively means that the vast majority of CT organisations have no alternative but to invest heavily in software/training/third parties so as to allow them to meet the changed HMRC requirements. Even that seems to be fraught with difficulty as it appears that software which claims to deal with iXBRL is simply not performing as it needs to.

What do we all think of this + can anyone quote me the statutory authority for this unbelievable situation being imposed on our modest CT clients & ourselves?

David Illingworth


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11th Nov 2011 21:52

The hurdle is in the eye of the beholder

Hi there.  Whilst I understand and would be interested to learn of the answer to your question, in reality, this change has not been that much of an imposition.  There was a huge amount of hype  and scaremongering (and lots of people wishing to make money out of it) but, given the Revenue's soft landing approach, you can actually submit with little work or knowledge.  All you have to do is read some stuff and invest a bit of time and/or money.

The history of our industry over 40 years (and I am in my 39th) has been rapid technological change and this is just one more step.  You either embrace it and see the benefits or make the decision to call it a day and either pay someone else or move on.  This is not a personal affront in that there are areas of practice where I've decided that enough is enough.

Yes, I had known of XBRL (and iXBRL) before it's release and had understood that the future of transactions would be with active electronic documents, enabling systems to pass information without human intervention, and tend to feel that such technology makes life easier all around.

Remember the idea is to give HMRC a better chance of raising queries over accounts and tax returns that deserve query, thus giving the vast majority an easier life.

Good Luck with your question.


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to Lilac1
12th Nov 2011 10:45



Paul I suggest that you are most unusual in having had knowledge of XBRL before its release. I'm afraid that your conclusions that this is not "much of an imposition" and that it gives "the vast majority an easier life" reveal that you are not operating in keeping with the grass roots which now underpin my environment and that of the many small practitioners, family companies & unincorporated associations out there.

I wholeheartedly embrace change but this time far too extensive a leap has been made at the outset - several years should have been used to reach the point at which CT returns now stand. That would have allowed HMRC to gradually develop their free service to a point at which it does cope with the majority of straightforward cases, the necessary refinements being identified via feedback from the likes of myself in the real world. During the transitional period the online system could have been mandatory but with the option of reverting to the previous paper submission if a matter emerged which the HMRC system could not deal with. The gradual elimination of those shortcomings would definitely have provided the "easier life" to which we all aspire but with the active electronic documents as the output.


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12th Nov 2011 10:00

The software required is not 'tip top' ...

and in reality has caused not more than a couple of minutes of reading to understand. Get VT accounts for £200 and your problems are over.

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By cfield
12th Nov 2011 11:22

An unnecessary imposition

I tend to agree with the OP that iXBRL is an unnecessary imposition on the vast majority of small companies in this country. As always, it is a case of the authorities failing to "think small".

I can see the benefits of iXBRL for listed companies and multi-nationals but fail to see the benefits for Joe Bloggs Ltd. This system should never have been rolled out to every single tiny company and club, at least not at once, and it is symptomatic of a culture where anything digital is considered brilliant and anything in ink is regarded as a sign of being in the Dark Ages.

IT is supposed to make our lives easier but iXBRL for small companies has the opposite effect as it actually takes longer in most cases to file the returns on-line than to write out a CT600.

To me, however, the most stupid thing they did was fail to update their CT system with the latest tax rates until October, using the Royal Assent as a feeble excuse. This made it impossible to submit post-March year-ends for up to 6 months, thus creating an artificial peak in our workloads (and theirs too).

And yet it was all so unnecessary as they have the legislative means to update the CT rates straight away - the same statutory instrument that allows them to charge new rates for VAT, fuel duty, stamp duty, etc as soon as the words leave the Chancellor's lips on Budget day.

We can only hope they will learn from this experience and improve the system for next year, but don't hold your breath!


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to Flying Scotsman
17th Nov 2011 20:49

Listed companies and ixbrl

I absolutely do not see the advantage of xbrl for large and listed companies, especially as their only option is to pay someone to code the financial statements by hand.  HMRC will tell you that you can tag individual invoices and extract all sorts of useful data from your leger, but companies already do that, albiet with information that is useful to them, not to HMRC or the Accounting Standards Board.

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12th Nov 2011 14:08

Agree with Steve Holloway

VT is excellent and I use it in conjunction with PTP tax software (I used PTP before VT hence the apparent duplication of technology).

As for the legality posed in the question, I have no idea, but the problem so to speak went away the moment I upgraded my ageing Microsoft Office to the 2003 release. Yes, I'm only 8 years behind the times.

My computer skills are mediocre but I found it easy to adopt XBRL as I have no doubt you would if the motivation was there. To give you an example of my limited knowledge of technology, the practical application of using 2 monitors simultaneously and recently discussed on this site is totally over my head.

Paul Scholes can speak for himself, but I have found his advice and experiences demonstrates he is completely in touch with the grass roots of the profession.


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12th Nov 2011 15:03

Agree with Steve Holloway also...

... and Paul, and Andy.

I already had VT and TaxCalc so implementing iXBRL cost me a total of... nothing... maybe a bit of time, but that's it... and, in my opinion, filing accounts and CT returns in this way is effortless...

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12th Nov 2011 15:09

Grass roots!

Well if my client's aren't grass roots then I'm not sure who's are! Look guys the iXrbl thing is a non-issue but when I read comments like  'it actually takes longer in most cases to file the returns on-line than to write out a CT600' I start to see how it may be for some. If that really is the case then you are using the wrong software (or you can write more quickly than I can!). On-line filing for all returns has to be one achievement that HMRC can be proud of. No paper, no postage, no lost returns, instant confirmation of receipt, quicker refunds for clients .. and its free!

iXbrl adds a couple of stages to the process and about 5 minutes per client and my low cost software provider has provided the means for no extra cost. Is that really worth moaning about?

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to charliecarne
12th Nov 2011 15:22

agree with Steve and Others..............

if you are using the "right" software iXBRL is a non issue - on average it takes 4/5 minutes to prepare a file on VT.

In fact, VT has enabled me to earn more money since iXBRL has come in, a local accountant who is "dead against" XBRL etc prepraes accounts in word (still) and as he thinks I am "technically far more up to date than he" sends me a pdf of the accounts which I pop into VT, create a set of accounts and XBRL file for and send back to him and get paid handsomely for it.

Quite simply VT is simple, cheap and reliable - and makes XBRL a complete non-issue.

(sorry if I am oversimplyfing the initial problem but that is just my view)


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12th Nov 2011 16:12

Introduction of iXBRL

I can see both sides of the argument here.

If the software you were using before the introduction of iXBRL is now iXBRL compliant then you haven't got a problem.

However, there are many (not an inconsiderable number) businesses and accountants who don't fall into this category. These are the people who will have to invest time and money to bring their systems into line.

Let's say you decide to move to VT to produce your iXBRL files. This is an excellent Excel add-in program recommended by many on here.

You may have 100 company clients. For each of those, in the first year, you will need to spend at least 30 minutes getting your iXBRL file ready. This gives a total of 50 hours, or 2 weeks extra work over and above the previous year. In some cases it might be even longer, maybe 3 weeks.

You will have to set each company up.

You will have to modify the creditors note if you want to show the directors account separately. You will have to change various P & L headings. You may want to make changes to the iXBRL tags. You may want to set up related party notes etc. You also have to get your TB into the VT package. This is why I say allow 30 minutes per client, longer in some cases, eg if you want to add a provisions note (warranties eg).

In subsequent years, you should be OK, and the process shouldn't take more than 15 mintues per client. Still, with a 100 clients, you are looking at 25 hours extra work which you didn't have before the introduction of iXBRL.

It is good news for your software house, as I guess more people will be moving over to dedicated software.

In this case, you have additional cost, training and the time taken to set things up in the first year.






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12th Nov 2011 18:02

Reality V Fear & Hype

Dai - in a forum of so many members you are going to get a wide variety of "grass roots" but I can assure you that of my 40ish Ltd companies 35 are as grass roots as you can get.  

The difference between us, I would suggest, is that I have always had a strong IT bent, taking an interest in what it can do for me and learning enough of the technical stuff to anticipate future developments and, more importantly, see through the hype.  A great help in this has been this forum as well as other accountants and clients I come into contact with.

One of the un-hyped facts here is that, at the moment, you only have to tag about 20 items to get a set of accounts through to HMRC, so hardly a huge imposition? I use Iris but, as others have said, for a modest investment the software will do it all for you.

Other changes imposed upon us over the past 40 years have been far more onerous (eg Self Assessment, changes in Self Employed/Partnership tax rules, 85 Companies Act, Stock Relief etc) the difference with this one is that it's entirely non-tax & accounts.

So yes I'm fortunate to not see this as a big deal but next week, when they re-write IHT or CGT, I'll be off.....not long now, there's more to life than tax, accounts & IT.

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By Old Greying Accountant
12th Nov 2011 22:09

As an IRIS user ...

... they had flagged iXBRL up to their subscribers many months in advance (I think well over a year), as had many of my CPD tax update courses, ACCA and others, and admit surprise ICAEW hadn't forewarned their members!

I was therefore aware of the issue well in advance, and was comforted that my software provider had the issue in hand.

The information was out there and readily available, what did you want, a personal phone call from Mr Hartnett?

As they say, you can lead a horse to water ...!


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13th Nov 2011 14:25

Please Answer The Question

This horse having drunk deeply at the well it repeats its first neigh:

"can anyone quote me the statutory authority for this unbelievable situation being imposed on our modest CT clients & ourselves?"

With the exception of Paul Scholes the rest of you "smart alecs" have failed to comment in the slightest on the foregoing.

I have all the tools I need to deal with the matter being a long time user of Finax which became Viztopia which is now serviced by CCH including their iXBRL Review & Tag module. I am not seeking advice concerning software be that cheap or otherwise.

Further, to respond to Paul's comment "The difference between us, I would suggest, is that I have always had a strong IT bent, taking an interest in what it can do for me and learning enough of the technical stuff to .............". Starting back in the good old days of DOS I personally wrote a menu driven, macro-filled module in Supercalc which continues to enable a non-tax person to produce the entire Tax section of an audit file as of today in less than 30 minutes from scratch. In one print run it provides a lead schedule, proof of current year tax charge, CT comp & full deferred tax workings. Those of you with enough wool on your back may know how horrendously difficult it was to use any DOS program to print a multi-fonted page. My original Supercalc output received formal approval from the Inland Revenue [yes I do know they have a new name] for use as a substitute CT return when the first version thereof was introduced. No doubt Paul will wish to retract his above suggestion.

If anyone wishes to focus on my question and point me beyond Section 1 TMA 1970 then I will be most grateful. Likewise if you need a link to reveal the text of that legislation then do let me know.


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to Lydia Howard
13th Nov 2011 18:27

Please quote the question


This horse having drunk deeply at the well it repeats its first neigh:

"can anyone quote me the statutory authority for this unbelievable situation being imposed on our modest CT clients & ourselves?"

With the exception of Paul Scholes the rest of you "smart alecs" have failed to comment in the slightest on the foregoing.


Actually the first neigh said "what do we all think of this + can anyone quote me the statutory authority for this unbelievable situation being imposed on our modest CT clients & ourselves?"

So the smart alecs were simply replying to the first part of your question - the part that you selectively omitted when you decided to take exception to the replies that you have received.

And when you post on any forum, you have to accept the replies that you get - whingeing about the ones that you don't like won't make any difference.

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By 3569787
03rd May 2016 18:02

Personally warned about XBRL 4 years ago!

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By Old Greying Accountant
13th Nov 2011 20:46

I was answering ...

"but I am yet to come across any individual in our profession who had previously even heard of iXBRL let alone who had the faintest idea what it was all about."

... this bit of the OP!

You post in excess of 650 words and expect us to only comment on the first 4!


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14th Nov 2011 06:55

Get their own house in order

My problem with HMRC's approach these days is that they have made a lot of changes to the way we need to file and the penalties for getting it wrong (and I know about the softly softly approach for CT - I am thinking about other penalties here), and yet their own house is an absolute tip.

If the tables were turned (ie they were required to do certain things by certain dates or face consequences), they would fail miserably.  This is the disgrace.  They act in a holier than though way with their £100 per month late filing enalties for P35s etc, but could not organise the proverbial drunden brawl in the brewery.

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14th Nov 2011 08:50

To answer your question ...

no, I have no idea what the statutory authority is ... like many things in professional life I just get on with it and serve my clients the best way I know how. You have wasted more time asking this question than I did complying with iXbrl.

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14th Nov 2011 09:15

To answer your question

Given your IT capabilities, I assume you have access to Google (it's free), so search for iXBRL Consultation Document and Bob's your uncle. 

My suggestion that your problem might result from a lesser level of interest or watchfulness in IT than others, was based on your comments so there will be no retraction, I would just change it to say 21st Century IT.

Only 10 comments were received to HMRC's consultation document from non representative bodies, you and others had your chance two years ago to put your view.  Which leads me to a question in return.  Given that this has been law for over 7 months and the accounting press have been covering it for over a year before that, why have you left it till now to kick off?

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14th Nov 2011 09:28

A developer writes

I am sure it is legal. See

More interesting is whether HMRC had a mandate to implement iXBRL for the accounts. The Carter review recommended that the corporation tax return be in XBRL format. Carter made no specific mention of the accounts. I know that in tax law the term corporation tax return includes the accounts, but is that what Carter meant? Ironically the CT600 is in XML and it is only the attachments that are in XBRL (which has now evolved into iXBRL).

Obviously on-filing is a good thing, and the idea of adding extra machine readable tags to an HTML rendering of the accounts is a good and clever idea. However, iXBRL is an exceptionally complicated implementation of the latter, and the list of available tags (taxonomy) exceptionally long.

If micro entities (which probably form the majority of all companies) are ultimately exempted from preparing iXBRL accounts, then surely one can only conclude that for them it was not necessary in the first place.

Philip Hodgson
VT Software

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14th Nov 2011 09:48

Try this

Hi, I found this link that may be useful:


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14th Nov 2011 10:10

The legislation is contained here:

The Income and Corporation Taxes (Electronic Communications) (Amendment) Regulations 2009.

But I would have thought it was obvious that it is legal.

Remember various tax and accoutancy bodies made representations at the eleventh hour. I am sure if it was illegal at the time, they would have said so.

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17th Nov 2011 13:28

Carter said it had to be thoroughly tested ...

…before it was imposed on taxpayers. It was imposed on 01/04/11 but what happened on 01/04/11? A. HMRC’s systems could not cope with the current CT rate. So in this regard I feel HMRC failed to comply with the spirit of Carter, if not the law. 

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18th Nov 2011 14:02


Not sure anyone is suggesting that iXBRL is of advantage to small companies.  Complaining that tax & accounting submissions are of no advantage to you is a bit of a non-starter?

I'm also puzzled why iXBRL should be proportionately more difficult & expensive for large companies....most that I've dealt with have computers, as do their accountants.

Finally, not sure the ASB has set out any standards on iXBRL, but I'm a bit behind with my CPD so may be wrong.

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to Glennzy
18th Nov 2011 17:59


For small to medium companies, you generally prepare accounts on Sage / Iris etc.  You put in the details, and there are buttons to generate word or pdf accounts, which most of the time, will work.  Now there is an additional button to generate iXBRL, and most of the time, that works as well.

If you have a larger company with more complex affairs, accounts production packages aren't going to be able to cope with it, so usually they are prepared using extended trial balances on excel, and typed up in word; much like how some of the older members here would have prepared accounts for everyone before computers were invented.  The really big plcs will prepare their accounts on a desktop publishing package such as Adobe InDesign, but it is the same idea as Word, and quite often the text is copied across from Word onto Adobe.

If your accounts are on a Word document, then matching the figures back to your original postings on SAP / Oracle etc is really a non-starter, so that means getting someone to do manual tagging of the document.

The ASB hasn't set out any standards on iXBRL, but the tags are based on ASB disclosure requirements.  That is very different to the sort of monitoring by cost centres, branches and product lines that companies want to do on a day-to-day basis.

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20th Nov 2011 23:02



While I am in agreement that having accounting data "tagged" will be useful and is the natural progression after moving from paper to computer filed returns, David has a point that the on-line system provided by HMRC is woefully inadequate for all but the simplest company, and that really HMRC should have got their own IT systems in order first.

Having got the data into the system many returns often sit there "awaiting response" indefinitely. I have raised the problem with the online helpdesk many times, but all they say is that it is a known error that is being worked on. 

Does anyone have any better information on the cause and solution to this problem?


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21st Nov 2011 07:21

Legal ?

I have doubts as to whether it is in fact legal to impose a specific format for making a return.

But, it will remain "legal" until or unless someone successfully challenges it in court, and no one is going to risk the vast amount it would cost, it simply isnt worth the expense.

Like many things it is imposed because justice isn't free and isn't open to all, and our courts are far from impartial.

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21st Nov 2011 09:23

If only things would juust stay the same eh?

We'd be out of business.

jonbryce: are you really asking us to have sympathy with large organisations who haven't moved passed ETBs?  I've used Iris to produce large company accounts and wouldn't dream of going backwards to ETBs.

You seem to be suggesting that it's the prime data that has to be tagged (invoices etc) but that is not the case, you tag the final format, ie either the nominal totals &/or information in the notes.  Iris designed its Openixbrl system specifically for people who still produce accounts in word & excel and this will automatically tag the majority of accounts for you and learn from the manual tagging you then do.

For those companies that move word text into a DT package, as long as the words and content don't change you can still tag and submit the word accounts.  

Also, as has been said countless times, you don't have to get it 100% right at the moment, as long as you tag the important stuff HMRC's systems will accept them, giving us all 2 years to learn & develop better systems.

DJ: With regard to challenging the legality through the courts might I suggest that it's not the cost that would be your problem but rather the fact you'd be pretty much on your own?

You doubt that it's "legal to impose a specific format for making a return" I don't know how long you've been doing them but in all my years I've had to fill out returns the formats have been mandated by the Revenue.  If you are involved in personal tax returns, did you complain when Self Assessment was "imposed" and did you turn away the clients who then felt unable to handle it for themselves?

With the exception of poor HMRC software (upon which I can't comment) this really is a storm in a teacup.  It should be obvious to anyone in our business that over the past 20-30 years technology has made most human intervention in information flow unnecessary and inefficient, this is just one more step.  I can remember a course I went on in the late 80s where the lecturer said that in the future submissions for VAT and other taxes would be achieved by accounting systems linking directly with government computers.  There was lots of tutting and laughter and maybe even a muffled threat of legal action from one or two?

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