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What's happening with HMRC's Agent Strategy?

19th Nov 2013
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ICAEW Tax Faculty chairman Rebecca Benneyworth addresses some of the questions that have been raised in recent months about HMRC’s long-term Agent Strategy.

After some fits and starts and changes of terminology and direction, the Agent Strategy is now beginning to take shape after more than two years’ of debate and consultation.

During this embryonic period, the project has started to focus more closely on creating a new digital environment and some of the less palatable aspects of the original proposals have been pushed to the side. Many of the modifications have been agreed with the joint tax agent strategy working group (JTAS) that exercises oversight on the programme on behalf of professional tax bodies.

While HMRC has a general direction of travel, each step of the strategy is brought to JTAS for detailed discussion.

Some of the topics that took on an emotive tinge during the initial 2010 consultations have undergone a transformation. So the enrolment process has become now referred to as unique agent reference (UAR). Self Service is now Agent Online Self Service and the Agent View is now referred to as agent and client statistics.

Separate HMRC teams working on each of these strands also meet with professional bodies that report back to JTAS. The technical teams working on the strategy are also using agile programming techniques and are creating bits and pieces of code that they test with a small group of volunteer users before moving on to write the next portion of the overall structure.

From what JTAS has been told, the UAR mechanism is nearly complete and may well be available for wider testing by the end of the year.

The core of the digital agent strategy is agent online self service, and the UAR is practitioners’ passport to these facilities.

To join, HMRC needs to know who you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re qualified, but it won’t be an open door for bogus refund scammers either. Agents need to supply various pieces of information such as a proper business address and landline rather than mobile number, plus an email address. This will become increasingly important as HMRC responds to calls to move towards email communication. The UAR process will also include a check on who you are registered with for anti-money launderuig purposes.

The UAR will replace your current agent reference and will ultimately allow you to do a number of things yourself, such as amending and reissuing notices of coding, or reallocating payments that were made to the wrong place.

HMRC are still talking to agents to find out what other things they would like to be able to do. They are still at a stage they are open to build stuff once they known what they want to build.

One thing accountants will need to do is clean up their client lists and delete those who have gone away. Once you’re registered, HMRC will migrate your clients to the new environment and you will be responsible for maintaining your own list. There will be a new, self-administered way to indicate that you’ve been engaged by a client that could mean an end 64-8s.

None of these online facilities will be mandatory, but if you don’t join up and get a UAR, you won’t get access to them.

There’s a lot of cynicism about the agent strategy - and many AccountingWEB members have not been shy about expressing this. But having liaised with the department through JTAS and other conversations, I think they are finally beginning to “get” what agents do.

Officials at the top of the department recognise that agents do a massively important job. They are trying to work with the agent community to design effective tools and resources for agents rather than taxpayers - and that should pay dividends for both sides. It will let us get jobs done more efficiently and will enable HMRC to rely on what we do.

Rebecca Benneyworth chairs the ICAEW Tax Faculty and is currently touring the country in a series of Tolley CPD Seminars


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Replies (8)

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By David Gordon FCCA
22nd Nov 2013 12:52

You may be correct

 You may be speaking sweet reason, but;

 During the last couple of decades every administrative change of substance has been mostly an exercise in HMRC / Civil service/ H M Government shifting the cost of an increasingly convoluted and unfair system on the taxpayer via is agent.

 A real debate is needed to define what should be the work of HMRC in administering the tax system, what should be Parliament's responsibility for overseeing HMRC,  and what should be the responsibility of professional advisers representing their client taxpayers.

 As the CPD session speaker (A prestigious financial services adviser) said at a meeting last week "Accountants are now mostly tax compliance officers"

 At what point do I become a clerk substantively working for HMRC?

 Any increase in such cost on the taxpayer is a real increase in the tax bill. Taxpayers do not hire us because they just love the new model 2013 accountant, it is so much better than the 2012 model.

 There is a further real cost. So much routine tax administration work is now passed on to the profession, so that increases HMRC's opportunity to hire low level numpties, instead of people who might understand tax matters. This will accelerate the de-skilling of HMRC, and so to further regular HMRC errors and bad service.



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By pauljohnston
25th Nov 2013 14:14

Thanks Rebecca

I dont think that anyone is under any illuslion that this is the way forward and whether we like it or not we will be caught up in it.  For those who give it support it will pay back but there is a long way to go

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By David Gordon FCCA
25th Nov 2013 15:04

It is not cynicism


 The first rule of computing was and still is:- Garbage in = Garbage out.

 HMRC's IT services have in large measure turned out to be unfit for service.

 The 64-8 circus is a case in point.

 It is no defense to attempt to sort the problem by simply shifting the responsibility to the agent.

 ICAEW and or ACCA is not in existence simply to accept every change that will result in additional fees to the client, but that is what it appears to be.

  Apart from that, we seem to have lost or downgraded the significance of tax documents.

 For example: The 64-8 is a legal document giving the agent wide ranging powers. It is open to electronic abuse. Yet HMRC have treated it as an administrative nuisance, and failed to accord sufficient resources for the administration of this simple but important document.

 What evidence is there that HMRC's attitude will change once we do more of their work for them?

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By chatman
25th Nov 2013 17:29

"HMRC responds to calls to move towards email communication"

"HMRC responds to calls to move towards email communication". How far will they be moving? Will they allow us to send them emails (and I mean emails, not submission of data/queries via on-line forms)?

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By chatman
25th Nov 2013 17:33

Agent Authorisation Procedure.

I quite liked the old system whereby HMRC would send the client an authorisation code in the post. Or at least I would have done if they had been reliable about sending them out. Are they changing it just because they couldn't manage to send them out every time?

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By Catti
25th Nov 2013 18:40

Clarify please?

Two questions (for now ) please Rebecca?

First, "One thing accountants will need to do is clean up their client lists and delete those who have gone away."

Please will you clarify what is meant here? At a Revenue seminar it was suggested that we will be required to remove clients from our lists if we do not file their returns every year. I have clients who sometimes decide to file their own returns but where I have a "watching brief", so we keep the agent authority in place, to enable me to get access to the records whenever necessary.

I guess that it will mess up the "Agent and client statistics" but will there be any real consequences if I choose to keep those clients on my list?   

Second, like most of the Revenue output on this subject, your article has nothing to say about the clients who are not within self assessment. Is anything going to change in relation to those clients? I suspect not, and that all these wonderful new facilities are going to pass them by.

In my experience, the clients who most need help sorting out incorrect tax codes are the pensioners and those with multiple sources of PAYE income, and a lot of these are not required to file SA returns. 

From what I have read, I understand that none of the online services/facilities will apply to this group. Am I correct?

Oh, and I couldn't resist this last comment. Whatever it is that has prompted the Revenue to start thinking about using email for communications, it certainly isn't that they are "responding to calls" for them to do so. To suggest that this is the case is to give them credit where none is due. There have been many calls from the profession over the last years for the Revenue to move to email, and (with some few exceptions) those calls have been dismissed by the Revenue. If they are changing now, it is because it suits them, not because they want to help us.  



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By norstar
13th Jan 2014 14:08

No one asked me

So called "talking to accountants". Well I've got 300+Self assessment clients, and I've not heard a bean or been invited to any HMRC roadshow on the matter!

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By harestock
13th Jan 2014 15:16


How does the new system affect people like me who are agents just for submitting VAT & CIS returns? Do I still have to obtain a UAR to continue doing this and when is the deadline?

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