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Tax advisers fume as SA Online falls over

30th Jan 2005
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The Inland Revenue's self assessment online website appears to have collapsed under the weight of traffic on the day before the deadline for submission of tax returns.

TaxZone readers reported that Revenue's SA Online pages could not be accessed during Sunday evening.

Most attempts made by TaxZone to access the pages during the early evening returned an error message.

A Revenue spokesman at 9 pm that he was able to access the log in pages via both the home page and the practitioner zone page.

His SA Online colleagues had informed him that there was "currently no widespead service problem" other than delays in issuing responses to returns submitted.

But TaxZone members reported various problems in response to a question posted in Any Answers early on Sunday, the day before the 31 January deadline for submission of 2004 returns.

Other readers had reported submission problems on Saturday.

Difficulties reported early on Sunday appeared to relate mostly to delays in provision of receipts.

The Revenue acknowledged at lunchtime that there were delays in sending out receipts, and there was "some slowness in the system" due to increased traffic.

But there was no general problem, a spokesman said, adding that a delay in transmission of a receipt does not alter the date of delivery of the return for the purpose of the late filing penalty.

Later comments made by TaxZone readers indicated that the Revenue's system was not accepting some returns, and several members reported that they could not access the helpline.

David Evans said: "Using Iris, the FBI system goes into a permanent loop of 'the request has been acknowledged by the Gateway' and 'polling Gateway for a response' until the system 'times out'."

Other difficulties were reported although 'Tony' had "used FBI today with absolutely no problems".

Stephen Quay said he was told by the FBI helpline: "The problem was with the computer that declines or accepts the tax returns.

"All the returns are being queued and as soon as the problem is fixed, which hopefully will be soon, they will start to be processed and the appropriate responses sent out."

Nicholas Myles complained that "all returns time out" and Graeme Morrice said no online services were available at all at 8.10 pm.

Andrew Goodall
[email protected]


Replies (31)

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By smullan
04th Feb 2005 17:31

Significant time lost trying to file on line
I attempted to prepare returns on-line on the Tuesday and Wednesday the week before deadline.

The system was incredibly slow to process from one page to the next.

Eventually, my email and internet system crashed and by the Friday I had lost 2 hours getting someone to reset my email as I it would not allow me to receive or send emails.

The worst week of my life!

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Andrew Goodall
By Andrew Goodall
31st Jan 2005 21:53

Response to Dickie
Dickie, there is no extension of the filing deadline. I did not hear the radio bulletin that you mention but it may have been referring to the 14 days' grace offered in relation to failed submissions, announced by the Revenue today. There is no general extension of the filing date for e-filers at present.


Andrew Goodall
[email protected]

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By AnonymousUser
31st Jan 2005 12:00

It wasn't working at 4am either!
Great idea to stay up all night to file when everyone else had gone to bed......except that it was still down at 4 am this morning, like it was still down at 5am on Sunday morning. This is oprdinary FBI for an individual, not as an agent - even the website itself was down. Haven't even managed to catch a glimpse of the elusive "Your return is 95% complete - submitting" screen since Saturday.

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By Anonymous
31st Jan 2005 12:29

well it worked for my personal return this Sunday
no problem and they owe me over a grand, so no question of a penalty even if I had been late. I'm lucky, but never had a problem with online filing personally.

For those of you stressed out because your clients were late with info - bill them all an extra 100 squid MINIMUM - they would bill you extra for late night/weekend working. If they won't pay, dump them.

For the others, send emails to No 10 complaining about poor E-Govt, which is one of T Blair's hobby horses - if nothing else it will mean more of ruck between Tony and Gordon Brown!

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By AnonymousUser
31st Jan 2005 12:41

What's wrong with the ELS
I have been using the ELS system to submit my returns for several years and it works every time. It is swift, simple and obviates the need to obtain receipts. There is no need to waste time and shoeleather delivery by hand. I cannot understand why the profession have been reluctant to adopt it and why the Revenue are considering discontinuing it. As the great accountant in the sky said, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

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By keith.donovan
31st Jan 2005 13:34

(This is my own self-assessment on-line filing.) Logged on at second attempt at around 11:15 this morning, had to refresh twice to get the right pages to load, but then sailed through the process at very high speed - no delays at all. Got my e-mail confirmation at 11:45.

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By Tim Robinson
31st Jan 2005 13:35

To the smug ELS users
I too was an enthusiastic ELS filer (using Iris) until I went over to broadband earlier this year. I naively assumed that the FBI offering would be an improvement and having no choice in the matter was happy to start using FBI.

I now know that this is not the case.

I am not sure if this is old ground or not but I have had the following problems;

- you cannot file unless a 64-8 is in force
- sometimes you cannot file even with a 64-8
- if you are in receipt of more than two pensions then you cannot use FBI
- I tried to submit my own return (prepared on Iris) and because I am not my own agent (!) I cannot do so.

I suspect that there are many other issues of which I am not aware.

The trouble is, once you go over to braodband you cannot (I am told) use ELS. I would much prefer to go back to it but the option simply is not there.


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Stephen Quay
By squay
31st Jan 2005 10:43

Update on earlier posts
Having submitted Sunday lunchtime (30 Jan) by FBI the receipt was waiting in in my inbox this morning (31 Jan) stamped 08:19 stating it was sucessfully received on 30 Jan. This confirms what IR said all along that it is the time the return is received is the important one, not when the receipt is sent out. However, if the return was rejected, then you would be in deep doo doo.

Taxability Pro also captured the receipt acknowledgement directly but uses the date of capture (31 Jan) as the acceptance date within its system. As usual I keep a printout of the email received from IR. Normally one day wouldn't make a difference... Anyone filing today should take hard copies of all messages from IR.

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By RimBoy
31st Jan 2005 11:32

These problems are precicely why I have stuck with ELS again this year. I know they 2005 will see the end of ELS, but I hope it's again extended.

I tried viewing online Statement 2 weeks ago on the Saturday and Sunday but was unable to access the site..........

When I finally did on the Monday, to my dismay, the most recent Statement were June 2004!

Or am I missing something?

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Rebecca Benneyworth profile image
By Rebecca Benneyworth
31st Jan 2005 11:42

Problems throughout the weekend
In my role as helpdesk adviser for SA2000 tax return software, I have been receiving calls since early Saturday afternoon from our users having problems filing through the Government Gateway.
I tested a number of returns over the weekend and was unable to get a response; our software times out after 20 tries.
We were informed by the EBU helpdesk on Saturday afternoon that it was a volume problem and as a safeguard our users should submit on paper if they were worried about penalties (!)
The problem for users is that without a response they do not know whether the return was successfully filed or not. From my inbox this morning I can see that files were successfully logged, as I have now receieved emails confirming them, but if you end up with an error message now and have gone to work you are a bit stuck.
I agree with the posting regarding stress - as a practitioner I'm not too bothered about working all weekend the lasdt weekend in January, but I have talked to some pretty unhappy people over the last couple of days. Those trying to access the Revenue software are in a worse position - they are just getting booted off the system.
At least our users have the option of printing off and submitting on paper, although it would now appear that this is not necessary.
Heigh Ho, another January, another panic!

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By AnonymousUser
31st Jan 2005 11:42

"Self Assessment - tax doesn't have to be taxing ????????????"
Having used SA online for the previous 3 years we found it to be so slow as to be unuseable all day Monday (24/1/05) and Tuesday (25/1/05). Obviously we contacted the revenue and were given the usual delaying tactic "delete temporary files". They did rather usefully admit that they "knew of one accountant who had managed to submit a return at 6am this morning".

When everyone had gone to bed on both those evenings (after 11pm), the system again became useable and we managed to do a dozen or so returns.

We also had problems with it all Sunday night.

As far as we are concerned it is not acceptable that the revenue encourages individuals and accountants to use a system that does not work correctly.

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By Anonymous
31st Jan 2005 11:48

It has to be ELS
We've never experienced a problem with ELS. the Revenue needs to recognise that support for ELS must continue way beyond 2005 as it is clear FBI cannot cope with the levels of traffic experienced at this time of year.

A friend who tried to use FBI for his personal return over a week ago experienced delays and was advised to try logging on at 04:00 in the morning!

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By dhollister
31st Jan 2005 11:57

revenue website delays
Those cynical practictioners amongst us were fully aware that the Revenue's web-filing facilities would fall over as the deadline approached. Our last few submissions were made on paper, hand-delivered to the Revenue offices by my wife, who obtained signatures for same. No £100 penalties here - but would 'failure to be able to log on' be a valid excuse ?

More serious perhaps is the thought that all responsible practitioners will be attempting to file their P35's online to secure the cash incentive for their clients. So far, I have found entering employer and employee details to be ridiculously slow; we have Broadband this end and wonder what they have at the other ? My secretary has spent most of her time recetly gazing at an onscreen egg-timer. I wonder whether in an effort to prevent the payout of £250 per head to about two million employers and indeed to secure a useful batch of late filing penalties, the Revenue will conveniently collapse their site just prior to 19th May ?

Or whether 'inability to log on to the Revenue website in normal working hours' will be deemd a valid excuse ?

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By sengaprior
01st Feb 2005 10:51

Tim Re FBI probs
Not sure why you have problems with FBI if more than one pension. I have a client with 6 and filed OK. Maybe a problem with your software.

A tip if you have a 64-8 but cannot file- use the agents helpline to check that the revenue have flagged the file properly. I have had a few where the PAYE has been flagged but not the self assessment. It then seems to take about a week for the client to appear on the gateway after having this put right but you can fast track it by calling the FBI helpline.

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By nhopkins
31st Jan 2005 11:43

Long-winded rant! Apologies before I start.
Before I begin my rant, I would just like to say that I have only sympathy for those of you who are trying to use this system(?) for a living.

Fortunately, I only have my own own return to submit so its not as though my livlihood depends on this system.

I submitted my return at about 23:30 last night via the Legatio "FreeFile" service (why is it that the "Inland Revenue's own software cannot handle share schemes?). At 00:05 I received an e-mail from Legatio saying that my submission had not been accepted. After checking everything (and finding that all was OK), I submitted the file again at 00:35 , and went to bed.

I checked my e-mail again at 07:15 this morning to find nothing from Legatio or the IR. I decided I would check the IR site to see if it had any record of having received my return. All I got was an "HTTP 500 - Internal Server Error" message (if they think that does not indicate that there is a problem with their systems then they clearly have more problems than we thought!)

On arriving at the office I tried again and got nothing but "HTTP 500", "The remote procedure call failed", and various other messages indicating that the system was unavailable.

I checked my e-mail again and found a message from [email protected] telling me that my (first?) return had been rejected. Five minutes later I received an e-mail from Legatio saying that my (second) attempt had been unsuccessful because

"The error messages we have received from the Inland Revenue processing systems are:-
Problem found in tax form Code : 2015 A Return for the user and tax year has
already successfully been made." (!!!!)

I have now (11:20 31/1/2005) finally been able to get into the IR site to check on my return status and it says "Not yet received".

I give up.

End of rant.

(Before you ask, no, I am not going to send it again, I will take Legatio's transmission of the IR's message as confirmation that I have done all that is required.)

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By lizmoss
31st Jan 2005 08:54

It's fine now
Filing by internet is working fine this morning, in fact quicker than it was on Friday. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw this news story this morning. Please could Accounting Web put something on their headline page to say its fine now, to avoid stress and worry for us poor tax advisers?

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By graememorrice
31st Jan 2005 00:18

Letter to MP
I have written to our local MP on the matter, and I urge members to do similar. The text of my letter is:-

M Savidge Esq. M.P.
Parliamentary Office:
166 Market Street
AB11 5PP

Dear Mr Savidge


I am an accountant working in my own very small practice, where we assist taxpayers to complete their Income Tax Returns.

As we do not have the resources to use expensive tax software, the Inland Revenue FBI (Filing by Internet) service was very welcome.

To my dismay, the service started to falter on Saturday, and today it failed altogether. I have tried to access the system at very regular intervals all day today, with no success. The only news I could find of this was on the AccountingWeb website, where I discover that many of my contemporaries are having the same difficulty.

I appreciate that computer systems are not perfect, and “Sod’s Law” states that they will always fail at the worst possible time. However, this is not the reason for my letter. I am appalled that the Inland Revenue have consistently denied all day that there is a problem. There is no status report on their website, and a spokesman has actually said that "he was able to access the log in pages via both the home page and the practitioner zone page.” and that there was "currently no widespead service problem". This is very patently untrue.

Taxpayers are now becoming extremely anxious as the filing deadline approaches, and the Inland Revenue are in complete denial.

Having come to depend on the system, I now have no other way of filing my clients' returns on time.

Who is to pay the penalties?

Yours sincerely

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By AnonymousUser
31st Jan 2005 09:49

It's down again 9.47am
Just tried to log in - "There is a problem with the page you are trying to reach and it cannot be displayed".

Do you think they'll pay me compensation for lack of sleep this weekend? (tongue in cheek!)

Off now to locate Telford Tax Office - anyone know where they hide local office phone numbers on the website?

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By Anonymous
30th Jan 2005 22:16

Quick! Check That, PLI, Aweb!
"Find out how to become an FBI Agent and save yourself hassle this tax season!"
Source: Aweb Self Assessment resource Centre

Nice one! Well we live in hope for it some day in the next 2-3 years.

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By AnonymousUser
30th Jan 2005 22:20

not good enough
Really, is this anyway to run an online tax system?

I'm not normally one for the blame game, but I make an exception in this case. Who is responsible? It is simply not good enough for the "system to be down" the day before the deadline. I'm furious.

House of Commons Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office, are you listening?

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By Anonymous
31st Jan 2005 20:31

Breaking News...
Deadline extended to two more weeks for efilers. Exact details unknown though.

Source: BBC

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By Philip Hoyle
31st Jan 2005 10:04

Me too
I've been getting the "page cannot be displayed" as well all morning since about 7 am.

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By AnonymousUser
31st Jan 2005 16:43

ELS does not support broadband. Although I have broadband I have continued to use a landline to submit ELS returns, which in view of speedy transmission, works out to be inexpensive for data transmission.

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By Hartford1944
31st Jan 2005 20:11

We have successfully used ELS for many years and its a very smooth running system. It's a great shame if its dropped before FBI is up to the same standard. Anyone willing to join a lobby group of users to save it?

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By carnmores
31st Jan 2005 09:39

Its still awful
and its getting slower again

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David Winch
By David Winch
31st Jan 2005 09:08

Avoiding the £100 penalty

It is possible to avoid the £100 penalty even if the return is not filed on time - but you need to act quickly!

If you expect to be unable to file your own (or your clients') tax return on time (which means, for the purposes of the £100 penalty, by midnight on Tuesday 1 February) an alternative way to avoid the £100 penalty is to ensure that the 2003/04 income tax and class 4 NIC liability is paid in full by close of business today (31 January).

If there is no tax or class 4 NIC for 2003/04 outstanding at the close of business on Monday 31 January 2005 the penalty will be reduced to nil (irrespective of whether the full payment on account for 2004/05 has been paid).

If you do not have an exact figure for the amounts due on 31 January 2005 in respect of 2003/04 and 2004/05 then paying sufficient to ensure that the 2003/04 liability is fully covered will do the trick!

The most certain way to make payment on 31 January is to physically hand over a cheque (which must be honoured on first presentation) and payslip at any Inland Revenue tax office today before the office closes to the public.

However, handing in a payment on 1 February will not avoid the penalty arising (although handing in a completed and signed return on 1 February does avoid the penalty).

Also, this method does not avoid penalties on partnership returns (no tax is payable on a partnership return in any event) and the penalties will still apply to them in the normal way (unless the Revenue decide to make some concession).

[email protected]

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By Sonia Gable
31st Jan 2005 09:13

What will be the submission date?
I completed my return online using the Inland Revenue's own software and pressed the submit button at 17.00 on Sunday. When I was next able to check progress at 7.00 this morning the return status was still shown as not submitted, submission in progress. This seems to be more than just a delay in the acceptance receipt. If the return has still not been accepted by midnight tonight, what will the Inland Revenue record as the submission date for penalty and enquiry window purposes?

By the way, the system does not seem to be working fine this morning, at least not at all times.

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Andrew Goodall
By Andrew Goodall
31st Jan 2005 09:15

Mixed reports
Elizabeth, things do seem better this morning but comments have been pouring in to the Any Answers discussion on this and some advisers are still telling of problems. I will update the front page shortly.

Andrew Goodall
[email protected]

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By AnonymousUser
31st Jan 2005 09:31

submission date
I submitted a return on 30th Jan and got timed out. I got a confirmation email today dated 31st Jan confirming that the return had been received on 30th Jan. Some glimmer of hope, then.

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By AnonymousUser
31st Jan 2005 08:23

An alternative suggestion
I had no trouble with the on line system when I submitted my return in July...

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By wfewtrell
01st Feb 2005 16:25 problems with the Revenue's systems, eh?
It has been noted on this thread that the Revenue have denied that there have been any problems (technically) with their systems over the last couple of weeks other than a slight delay in email notifications being sent out.
I'm not so sure. One of the most annoying things about FBI is that you cannot file unless a 64-8 is in place and registered at the Gateway. Because the Gateway is not very user friendly (in that it only provides a list of UTRs in, from what we can ascertain, no particular order) we tend to wait for our clients names to appear on the Revenue 'Portal' (the name they apparently use for the site at We have been told by them in the past, only takes between 24 and 48 hours at the most for the Partal to be 'updated' by the Gateway.
Well we were getting quite worried as a number of new clients for whom we had submitted 64-8s were not appearing and we were thinking that we were going to have to make the tortuous round trip to the local office to hand deliver, however a tick out against the UTRs on the Gateway (it's a good job we're accountants and don't mind doing tickouts!) identified these clients as being there and thus we could file.
I have just spoken to the Helpline who informed me that their technical department has just told them that all the clients registered after the 15 January are caught up in a technical problem (he couldn't explain what), that they were working to fix it and that they couldn't guarantee our clients appearing on the portal before the end of February!!! "The timing of this problem seems awfully close to the other filing problems we accountants have had recently" I said. "Mmm" He said "I'm not a technical person so I can't comment".
So the formal dictate from the Revenue publicly was that there were no issues technically other than minor ones. I'll leave it to you all to draw your own conclusions.


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