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HMRC in helpful initiative shock

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In this tale of the unexpected, Philip Fisher has words of praise for HMRC as a new series of helpful webinars and other aids for taxpayers is launched.

24th Aug 2023
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You may not think that an accountant is the best person to give medical advice but, occasionally, it pays to listen to a bean counter.

If you are one of the many members of our profession who likes nothing more than taking pops at His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and also happens to suffer from high blood pressure, then it may be better to skip this week’s column. Because, as shocking as it may sound, I come here to praise HMRC and one of its new initiatives.

Don’t worry, it isn’t Making Tax Digital or the decision to close down “customer” phone lines for a summer holiday.

Nowadays, we are all familiar with what are known as “nudge” letters and emails sent out by the nation’s taxing authority, subtly attempting to persuade taxpayers to pay all of their taxes. Equivalent versions pop up even now as you are filling in tax returns online, if an algorithm decides that an entry looks a little bit fishy.

Help and support

Over the past few weeks, many customers will have been the recipients of a series of emails from HMRC’s Head of Digital Engagement and Communication Services that pleasingly falls into neither the category of fishy or fishing.

Instead, these communications attempt to be helpful to those who may not be as well-versed in tax law as we specialists and may well achieve their goal.

These are issued from a team designated as HMRC Help and Support under the heading “Support from HMRC”.

One focuses on residential property income, inviting attendance at a couple of webinars and recommending some short videos on HMRC’s YouTube channel. Was any reader aware that this existed?

Another sounds a little more sinister, asking: “Are your records on the right track?” but actually offers further free webinars on capital allowances and record-keeping for the self-employed, together with links to YouTube videos explaining how to cancel self-employment and self assessment registration.

Best of all though is an email that introduces us to an online tool that helps taxpayers to determine whether they need to complete a self assessment tax return.

This contains this extremely helpful advice:

If you no longer need to send a tax return
You need to let us know. If you don’t, we’ll keep writing to you and you may have to pay a penalty if you don’t give us the information we need. 

How to tell us if you don’t need to send a return:

if you were self-employed but have stopped working for yourself, please use our online form

if you’re not self-employed, we’ve created some guidance and an online form you can use

It is also great to know that “We’re here to help”.

This stream of helpful emails appears to come unbidden to one’s inbox. Once, what might otherwise be regarded as spam might meet with satisfaction.

Those who find themselves on the list of recipients are unlikely to object to the offer of free guidance on technical issues that should help taxpayers to complete self assessment returns correctly, let alone the chance to escape the obligation to avoid filing a tax return.

Some might suggest that HMRC could be attempting to inject a little bit of propaganda and party line into the messages that they share but such a view would be uncharitable.

[node:blueconic_dialogue]

Best for all

The best way to ensure that there is minimal hassle for all parties around the completion of tax returns is to reach an agreed position, which is far more likely if the taxpayer understands what he or she needs to return or recognise potential problems before they arise.

The main objection to this new strategy could come from diligent accountants who lose out on work and marketing opportunities, either because clients discover that they don’t need to file returns or get help from HMRC webinars where they might otherwise have paid professionals for guidance.

On the other hand, there has to be a possibility that having attended an HMRC webinar, some clients might discover that they had not been providing full information on a correct basis in the past and could need our help to dig themselves out of a hole.

All in all, this is a very positive initiative that might help the beleaguered taxing department to gain a more positive reputation, pleasing taxpayers and possibly even improving morale among those staff members who have not already sought pastures new.

Replies (2)

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By Hugo Fair
24th Aug 2023 11:05

"This stream of helpful emails appears to come unbidden to one’s inbox.
Once, what might otherwise be regarded as spam might meet with satisfaction.
Those who find themselves on the list of recipients are unlikely to object"

Nurse, double the Valium dosage ... the effect seems to be wearing off!

I'm sure that HMRC's intentions were good (well actually I'm not so sure - suspecting that they're merely trying to lessen their workload, but hey ho) ... HOWEVER:

1. They spend a lot of time telling us that they rarely use email and yet, in an environment where people are only too used to receiving scams masquerading as emails from HMRC, they expect you somehow to recognise a genuine one that encourages you to click on a link?

2. I don't know anyone whose initial reaction to receipt of an unsolicited email is unbridled joy and excitement (years of 'good news' or 'exciting news' emails from banks, energy companies, et al have seen to that) - so satisfaction is an unlikely response;

3. The cynics out there (a growing majority due to bad experiences) might well wonder *why* they were selected to receive such an email and their neighbour wasn't (even though, for instance, they don't have any rental property)?

Spin it how you like (and for whatever reason), this looks like just more more money and resources being spent on ill-targeted pseudo-campaigns ... instead of mending broken procedures/systems.

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By JamesDS
25th Aug 2023 18:14

Nope!

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