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.
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.
HMRC see the primary functions of the ADL as these:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Self assessment (SA) statements: confirm balance, charges, payments and penalties, and reasons including how to appeal. This functionality is all available online.
- 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.
- Underpayments: the ADL adviser can explain how it occurred, confirm payments, confirm recovery options.
- Payments on account: the ADL adviser can amend these and advise on implications.
- 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!
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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Della Hudson was part of the class of 2009. She built up Hudson Business Accountants and Advisers from her kitchen table to a small team of flexible workers with independent premises in Nailsea, near Bristol. The firm ran regular Money Matters seminars and other training and webinars. Della sold the firm in 2017 in order to focus on the...