Owner Kate Upcraft Consultancy Ltd
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HMRC unlocks the mystery of PAYE tax codes

27th Jun 2017
Owner Kate Upcraft Consultancy Ltd
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hands unlocking a lock

Kate Upcraft reports on the HMRC webinar on tax coding, which covered the way certain trigger events generate changes to tax codes. This is an area that has long mystified tax agents and their clients.

State benefits and tax codes

The first part of the webinar dealt with the four different scenarios that are catered for when DWP tell HMRC that an individual has just started to receive state pension or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Scenario 1

DWP has informed HMRC within one month of the benefit start date. The annual amount of the benefit is coded out, but a month 1 code is issued just to recover tax on 1/12th of the annual amount each month for the rest of the year, so there will be no potential underpayment.

Scenario 2

DWP has informed HMRC later than one month after the benefit start date (I asked why this happens, as surely it is automated, but got no reply from the presenters). The actual amount to be received in the rest of the tax year is coded out and the code issued on a month 1 basis. An underpayment will be generated that will carry forward to the next tax year to code out the amount received prior to the tax code change.

Scenario 3

The benefit recipient won't be a taxpayer when the new source of income is included. The amount to be received for the rest of the tax year is included in the code on a cumulative basis, but the code won’t be issued as there is will be no tax to pay.

Scenario 4

The benefit causes the taxpayer to have a tax liability for the first time. The actual amount for the rest of the tax year is included and the code is issued on a month 1 basis, but this will lead to a potential underpayment that will be coded out in the next tax year.

Annual change

Prior to the start of each tax year DWP informs HMRC of the taxpayer’s new state pension or ESA. HMRC code these amounts out considering any other income sources. As the state benefit increases usually take effect in week two of the tax year the annual amount coded out is: 51 x the new rate + 1 x the prior year weekly amount.

Occupational pensions

When an occupational pension is notified to HMRC by the pension provider, this will have no impact on the live employment, as the taxpayer may be continuing to work as well as receive a pension.

If there is a live employment the occupational pension will always be treated as the secondary source, so the taxpayer will need to make contact with HMRC to change the occupational pension to the primary source, if that is what they want.

Reliefs and allowances

This is where there is an amount in the taxpayer’s code related to:

  • flat rate expenses;
  • job-related expenses (e.g. mileage, laundry allowance); or
  • professional subscriptions

Unless the taxpayer tells HMRC that any of the above adjustments are not due for the next tax year, the amount will carry forward unchanged.

Fixed in code

If the individual leaves the employment for which flat rate expenses, job-related expenses or subscriptions relief was due, those amounts are not pro-rated, but remain in the code.

This is because HMRC assumes that the next job will be in the same sector, so a similar adjustment will be due. The adjustment will only be removed from the code if as part of the annual records’ scan it is found that the employment has ceased and the only remaining income source is a pension, or the taxpayer notifies HMRC that the adjustment is no longer due.

Aggregated expenses

If an employee is claiming job-related expenses at more than one employment, those expenses are totalled up as they can only be applied to the primary employment income source.

Pension relief

This can relate to personal pensions as well as occupational pension schemes that have had tax relief given at source. The pension relief is permitted for taxpayers up to age 75. The payments are grossed up to provide the tax relief, if HMRC is not aware that is a one-off pension contribution. The relief is not removed even if there isn’t a live employment, as long as the employee has not reached age 75.

Gift Aid relief

This works in the same way as pension relief, other than it is not age dependant. Remember: charitable giving via payroll applies tax relief at the employee’s highest marginal rate, but only if the employee is a taxpayer, in the same way as the net pay arrangement for pension contributions.

Investment income

I was surprised this didn’t generate any questions from the audience given the problems HMRC has had with the different rates of tax on banks interest and dividends. There doesn’t seem to be a solution in the offing. HMRC’s only suggestion was: “ask the taxpayer to contact us if the amount in their code is wrong”. HMRC want taxpayers to do this via their personal tax account, so they can keep a track of the request and challenge it if it isn’t actioned correctly.

Key message

We need to try to engage taxpayers with using their personal tax account, particularly if they aren’t represented, as this is the best route to see an amended code (in fact the only route if you’ve 'gone paperless', either inadvertently by ticking the box when you activated your account) or by choice.

Other than that, the most obvious message is tell HMRC if things change year-on-year as their systems will otherwise make assumptions that are incorrect. Where this is around low level reliefs and allowances, that may not be so problematic but if a one-off amount of investment interest or pension contributions has skewed the code then that needs more immediate attention.

Primary and secondary income sources

Here the tone of the webinar changed to ‘employers/agents can cause all sorts of problems”. This was centred around sending incomplete starter information where statement A, B or C is either not selected correctly or not sent at all.

I confess to being bemused by this, I’m not aware of any reputable payroll software that allows a new starter to be set up without a starter declaration, so if this is the cause of so much incorrect coding, why aren’t HMRC doing more data analysis of the software, and the employers using that software, who are causing these issues – surely that’s an easy nut to crack?

It was also clear that the issue of only being able to send leaver information at the time you pay employees causes problems. If the ‘new’ employer reports the new employee and ticks statement B (I've already had a job this tax year but haven't now), HMRC can't move this job to be the new primary employment (and restore a cumulative personal allowance) until the ‘leaving’ FPS arrives from the previous employer.

For example, if the previous employer had the person on a quarterly payroll there will be a significant time lag before that FPS arrives – one wonders why HMRC can't act on the taxpayer’s assertion that they have no other employment, if this causes arrears as if it’s untrue the taxpayer has signed the starter declaration so can’t complain?

I also wonder at the point of code BR when the taxpayer selects statement C, but an undeclared statement C (the default operated by the employer) provides a better outcome of 0T/1. Isn’t BR an out-of-date blunt instrument in this regard?

If there is software that sends a previously unknown employee on the FPS without a start date and declaration HMRC systems assume the following:

  • BR, DO, D1, OT or NT supplied – statement C
  • Any ‘standard’ tax code on a week1 /month 1 basis – statement B
  • Any ‘standard’ tax code on cumulative basis – statement A

This can cause HMRC to do the following:

  • Create a secondary income source instead of primary ie issue BR instead of the current year cumulative personal allowance
  • Live employment ceased – why this happens I don't know if the leaver FPS hasn’t arrived, as that conflicts with what they said earlier in the webinar?
  • The current emergency tax code is issued instead of cumulative

Finally, much was made of payroll ID being used to distinguish between employments. Sadly, those of us who’ve been involved in this since the beginning of RTI know that much-needed work to finesse this was shelved by HMRC and yet it is one of the main causes of duplicate records, even if the old agent and new agent do everything by the book when they hand over the client.

I had an example just today of a client payroll totally duplicated. So, please can we start this debate again proactively and come up with a robust solution? Moving clients between agents and software and TUPE changes are 'business as usual', so cannot continue to cause chaos for taxpayers, employers and agents.

Finally, I was surprised that no mention was made in the webinar of what the impact of these triggers would be from 1st July when dynamic coding goes live. Will it be the case that changes that have historically led to an underpayment will no longer do so and will be coded out in-year, leading to more aggressive tax deductions? We’ll try to find out more and share that with you as soon as we know.

This is even more important information ahead of the move to dynamic coding, which we have seen confirmed in the latest Employer Bulletin as July 2017. We’ve been told by HMRC more precisely it is due to be 1st July.


Replies (10)

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By Mitch
27th Jun 2017 16:24

One unanswered question I still have from the webinar is when do the DWP notify HMRC of the start of pension/benefit? Is it just after the first payment or after the entitlement begins? For those who take their pensions 4 weekly or quarterly it would cause problems to wait until after the first payment is received.

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By monksview
28th Jun 2017 10:44

Does anyone know when agents are supposed to be able to go in online and make changes to their clients' tax codes? Or has that been shelved?

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By Peter Tucker
28th Jun 2017 11:22

In view of the fact that PAYE Tax Codes form an integral part of the PAYE system, and have done since the introduction of the system in the 1940's, some may question why anyone should consider the calculation of a PAYE Code, it distribution or operation as being a Mystery? Could it be that the considerable emphasis on "IT" has had an influence? Could it be that there are now many individuals within HMRC who do not have a PAYE Background?
When one considers the number of tax free allowances that were available in the 1960's compared to the few available today, many would say that PAYE coding has become considerably more simple? It is also worth noting that the number of "subsidiary or other incomes" has not changed much over the past 40 years so this is not a new phenomenon.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Peter Tucker:
By leon0001
28th Jun 2017 12:46

It was 1944/45. I have seen the IR publicity issued at the time. Did you know that only the top 25% of wage earners were expected to be included. The rest were expected to earn less than the personal Allowance.

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By badgmalt
28th Jun 2017 11:42

The comment about TUPE being business as usual and should not cause problems is extremely well made for me, as is the complaint that IT causes problems too. Recently, I TUPE'd 130 staff and despite telling HMRC that this was happening, they still managed to "start" in the new company before "finishing" the old. Problems with the HMRC-approved payroll software (it took the provider 4 months to accept responsibility for the problems) only added to the confusion. Consequently, each member of staff was given a BR code and there was nothing the company could do to fix it, so it was left to the workforce to advise HMRC of it's error. Since the majority of the weekly paid direct labour force were not English speaking in any respect, it took several weeks, lots of phone calls, plenty of translations by a "trusted person" and lots of advances of pay to fix.

Thanks (1)
By dave.white.xg
28th Jun 2017 15:36

Goodness me, Kate, you know your stuff when it comes to Tax Codes. I feel somewhat deflated reading this. But on the positive side I now know where to come when I have any questions. Do you have a website?
Thanks for sharing.
Dave White

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By Mike Nicholas
29th Jun 2017 09:25

Thank you for this Kate. I have tended to 'delete' all HMRC emails about webinars - so missed this one which sounds like it was really informative.

Certainly my own move onto receipt of the state pension has revealed how HMRC allocates my personal allowance.

HMRC's tax coding systems were never perfect. And I suspect that there were many errors leading to under and overpayments of tax.

I remember the days when tax relief on mortgage interest was provided via tax codes...with the huge numbers of coding changes occurring several times a year.

And with the baby boomers increasingly moving into receipt of pension payments from two or more sources this is inevitably a potential source of coding errors for HMRC.

And of course many individuals have two or more sources of earned income nowadays.

I wonder whether overall HMRC is better today with issuing coding notices than it was say thirty / forty years ago?

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Replying to Mike Nicholas:
By Peter Tucker
30th Jun 2017 21:20

The issue of "two or more sources of income" is often quoted as being an "issue" for PAYE Coding, when there is no logical reason for this to be a problem.
In reality each Individual has a Main Source of earned income which can be defined as the Employment where they spend most of their time. Each and every other source of earned income is therefore "subsidiary" regardless of the amount of income involved.
PAYE was designed to allocate the net Tax Free Allowance for an Individual to their "main source" of earned income, meaning that each and every source of "subsidiary" earned income would be taxed without any Tax Free allowances.
Where a source of income was a company ( non State ) Pension, the logic is ( or was ) that because this source of income would remain in payment until the Individual died, it should be considered as the "main" source of income.
None of this is complex or particularly complicated. Errors in an Individuals taxation of earned income is due almost entirely to the fact that HMRC have not properly calculated an Individuals Tax Free Allowance and allocated the correct PAYE Code Number to each or any Employment.
The notion that PAYE operation is anything to do with Employers or Pension payers is completely fallacious as the operation of a PAYE Code Number against earned income is simple arithmetic, where as the calculation of PAYE Coding is an HMRC responsibility?

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By richardterhorst
29th Jun 2017 10:27

Off course HMRC cannot comment on tax coding on investment income. Dividends are not guaranteed and with the minimum salary maximum dividend can fluctuate wildly and in owner of businesses can be manipulated. Recall when dividends were pushed up before the tax credit was removed for later draw down?

Any tax code that includes dividends I challenge and HMRC concedes every time. I notice they stopped doing including it in the tax code.

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Replying to richardterhorst:
By Peter Tucker
01st Jul 2017 23:44

Each and every PAYE Code Number is an estimate, since as mentioned HMRC can not guarantee the allowances or deductions included in the calculation of a PAYE Code number to be absolutely accurate.
Therefore any Untaxed or Dividend income included is estimated. The idea that HMRC should not use estimates is not smart, but they should use the very best estimate that can be provided?

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