What's happening with HMRC's Agent Strategy?
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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Rebecca trained in London with Kidsons and, on qualifying, spent some time as Chief Accountant of a manufacturing company. She now has her own small practice in Gloucestershire that comprises of owner managed businesses and small companies.
She also lectures extensively for a range of professional bodies, accountancy firms,...