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Inside story of the Agent Dedicated Line

6th Jul 2017
Coach/mentor for accountants Minerva Accountants
Columnist
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Della Hudson uncovers a shocking development in the HMRC Talking points webinar about the Agent Dedicated Line (ADL), which was broadcast on 23 June 2017.

I was interested in this webinar as, like most accountants, I find the ADL operates far below the standards I would expect. I was very glad that I took the time as it would appear that it is my expectations that are entirely wrong.

Origins

The HMRC presenters outlined the origins of the ADL, which came into being while I was working in industry 2001/02. It was set up to provide a priority telephone number to agents following the introduction of the contact centres.

Only experienced HMRC staff work on the ADL (experience is defined as greater than 12 months). Whilst we might dispute whether a year of service is sufficiently experienced for our needs, it is certainly enough experience for what HMRC believe the ADL is set up to do.

Functions

HMRC see the primary functions of the ADL as these:

  1. Updating the taxpayer’s details: e.g. name, address, client telephone, marital status (for MA and MCA claims). This is simple stuff, much of which can be done online.
  2. Technical referrals: ADL advisers are not trained on all aspects of tax, so they refer to technicians for issues around capital gains, capital allowances, chargeable events and enterprise investments. Sometimes the tax agent caller might get lucky and speak to an adviser who happens to know about this.
  3. PAYE coding issues: most, but not all, of these can be dealt with by phone. For those issues which the ADL adviser can’t deal with, they will refer or ask the agent to write. The ADL can confirm latest PAYE code issued and breakdown. This is again, simple stuff, and in theory, this function should be available online.
  4. Self assessment (SA) statements: confirm balance, charges, payments and penalties, and reasons including how to appeal. This functionality is all available online.
  5. Initiate repayment requests of PAYE and SA: The ADL adviser can issue refunds (subject to security), confirm the date the repayment was issued and cancel if necessary.
  6. Underpayments: the ADL adviser can explain how it occurred, confirm payments, confirm recovery options.
  7. Payments on account: the ADL adviser can amend these and advise on implications.
  8. SA tax returns: The ADL adviser can help with completion, including what entries go into what boxes. The adviser can confirm if or when SATR has been received by HMRC, the filing deadline and when payments are due. The adviser may be able to amend most items over the phone.  All of these functions can be done online.

None of the above is particularly complex, and I agree that 12 months experience is probably adequate for someone to read the answers from a script or to look at an online account.

Missing client information

The really, really useful bit that we use HMRC for is to fill in the client’s missing information. This may be the P60 that the taxpayer either didn’t receive or has lost.

Such information will no longer be disclosed to tax agents by HMRC, as the client has access to it through their personal tax account.

HMRC seems to have missed the point as to why clients pay us, their tax agent, to deal with such problems for them. HMRC has removed our access to this essential information before we have access to the agent’s version.

Apparently, HMRC is working on empowering agents and helping us to ‘self-serve’. To this end, they are working on giving us access to our clients’ personal tax accounts. Excuse me while I swear! HMRC has decided to withhold client information from us, with no promise of a date when it will be available for us to access online!

Conclusion

HMRC can be, and are, very proud that the agent dedicated line is fulfilling what HMRC requires it to do. But what HMRC requires and what we tax agents require seem to be as far apart as the earth from the sun.

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Replies (22)

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By SteveHa
06th Jul 2017 15:14

I joined the webinar, and my impression that it was simply an hour of HMRC telling us how much we will benefit by being increasingly marginalised.

Notwithstanding this, everything that they admit the ADL is there for is neither use nor ornament to us. We can access the information that they will provide online, we don't typically need the quality of advice that they can offer (the effects of reducing payments on account, really!!!).

The ADL should be staffed by those currently in the technical team, so that we can get answers to the complex, pressing issues on the first call rather than having to wait for a call that may or may not materialise sometime in the next 5 days.

Thanks (6)
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
06th Jul 2017 17:14

Hmm. The main reasons I call up are coding notice coke ups and trying to check PAYE and P11D data. Which of course now results in some grumpiness the other end as I tell them to post it out to the client as its now tip top secret.

it seems HMRC view the Agent line as there essentially as a training tool given most of those jobs are things accountants ought to know or can do online anyway.

NB if all of the staff have been there 12 months I despair with the poor advice they have been dishing out!

Thanks (1)
Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
By itp3asso
07th Jul 2017 15:08

Are coding notice coke ups instances where the bureaucrats have ingested an excess of the Columbian Marching Powder?......

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
06th Jul 2017 20:51

As usual from HMRC unbelievably stupid. Pretty much every time I call up the agent line I end up asking for stuff to be posted out. the idiotic restrictions will no doubt further increase my requests for posted information.

And I thought HMRC were supposed to be reducing their cost base? As usual no joined-up thinking whatsoever.

Thanks (1)
Replying to mr. mischief:
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By the_Poacher
07th Jul 2017 08:52

It's demand management. An advisor told me that some agents ring up several times a day asking for pay and tax details because contacting HMRC is cheaper than asking the client for the P60. Make it less easy for agents to use this route and the demand will go elsewhere

Thanks (2)
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By the_Poacher
07th Jul 2017 08:49

I'm afraid that with HMRC staff we get what we are paying for. There are far too few staff with detailed taxes training in a HMRC to staff telephone lines, they are a precious resource that needs to be carefully managed. We are being pushed down the digital route because it's cheap for HMRC and, given their budgetary pressures, I can understand it. I don't like it, but I understand it.

If you do speak to a skilled taxes technician in HMRC, try to se if you can guess their age, most seem to be towards the end of their career. Not sure what HMRC will do when they retire.

Thanks (1)
Universe
By SteveOH
07th Jul 2017 09:51

I can't for the life of me see why we, as authorised agents, cannot have access to our clients' personal tax accounts. It would make life so much easier.

Thanks (1)
Replying to SteveOH:
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By the_Poacher
07th Jul 2017 11:47

It must be the IT because clearly it is in HMRC's interest to get us operating online. A bogus or compromised taxpayer point of access is unfortunate but perhaps not catastrophic. A bogus or compromised agent point of access could inflict damage across many taxpayer records so it seems sensible to assume the security safeguards will need to be tighter.

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By John Wheeley
07th Jul 2017 10:51

The ADL is good for requesting SA302s.

Thanks (1)
Replying to John Wheeley:
By petersaxton
07th Jul 2017 11:57

you mean the thing that is supposed not to be needed?

Thanks (1)
Replying to John Wheeley:
David Ross
By davidross
07th Jul 2017 12:01

???? You can download them along with the Tax Position reports that lenders want.

I agree that the refusal to give out useful information is clearly demand management - but cannot see why the information is not simply released into AOSS

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Replying to davidross:
Morph
By kevinringer
07th Jul 2017 13:31

You can't download if you use third party software: you have to print the overview and send that with the third party software calculation to the lender. But in my experience most lenders are still not up to speed on this and demand HMRC-printed SA302.

Thanks (2)
Replying to davidross:
Morph
By kevinringer
07th Jul 2017 13:33

AOSS is only available to agents with <200 clients. Out of interest, I've just listened to the coding webinar this morning. I remember when HMRC announced the Agent Dashboard in 2012 that we'd have the functionality to amend client PAYE codes online. Since then the Agent Dashboard has been renamed AOSS and renamed again as Agent Services. Can a AOSS user tell me whether you can alter PAYE codes online please.

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Replying to kevinringer:
By SteveHa
07th Jul 2017 13:36

AOSS still only handles employer PAYE.

Thanks (1)
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By hiu612
07th Jul 2017 12:05

Diverging from the trend of bashing HMRC's ADR, I imagine we all call it relatively regularly for fairly mundane purposes, and at least it means you can get your call answered in an acceptable timeframe, unlike calls from the general public. I'd rather have it as it is than not have it at all.

Thanks (1)
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By justsotax
07th Jul 2017 12:38

I am not sure the acceptance of mediocrity should be seen as a good thing. Lets not have it at all....see how the Revenue cope with the deluge of queries/questions via letter...they barely cope as it is.

'better than nothing' is possibly the least compelling reason to accept any service/product/proposal....

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By johnlball
07th Jul 2017 13:02

I have found the ADL quite helpful and some of the staff reasonably knowledgeable. However the removal of P60 info' is a disaster. I have been a game keeper (tax inspector) and a poacher (tax advisor) over the last 54 years and I feel that every HMRC staff member should spend some time working for an accountant, say 2-3 years and then they might realise how much we (tax agents) help them to do their job WE MUST HAVE ACCESS TO PERSONAL TAX ACCOUNTS.

Thanks (3)
Replying to johnlball:
By SteveHa
07th Jul 2017 13:17

Having sat on both sides of the fence myself, I'd tend to see the advisor as the game keeper and the inspector as the poacher.

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By johnlball
07th Jul 2017 17:18

great reply, but maybe a little cynical! (or realistic)

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Morph
By kevinringer
07th Jul 2017 13:53

I'm finding the ADL can handle less and more items are being "referred" to the mysterious "back office". It would save agents (and HMRC) a lot of time if we could phone up the "back office" instead of the ADL.

Thanks (1)
David Ross
By davidross
08th Jul 2017 13:48

Talking of things that do not work ....

It anyone from AccoutingWeb reads this, I elected to get a daily digest but am getting emails whenever anyone adds a new comment. Not a new problem, it has always happened since the site was 'improved'. Like HMRC, AccountingWeb seems deaf to my request for this to be fixed.

Just saying !

Thanks (1)
Replying to davidross:
Morph
By kevinringer
10th Jul 2017 08:50

Technology doesn't always move forward, it can move backwards too. Those who implement it are often deaf to users. As you say, AW is a case in point. GOV.UK compared to hmrc.gov.uk is another example.

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