Assessing self-assessment. By Rob Lewis

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The self-assessment deadline is ten years old. Celebrations included the traditional 'technical difficulties' at HMRCs online filing site, and the customary deadline extension. Politicians, journalists, regulators and members all paid their respects by joining in the usual chorus of criticism. But now the panic has dissipated somewhat, and agents are no longer endlessly clicking refresh, how do things really stand?

Reports have now reached that HMRCs website difficulties first emerged on Wednesday evening. Initially, the submit screen froze up, although users were occasionally redirected to a 404 error page (ie, page not found). Mid-afternoon Thursday, HMRC accounted the problem had been resolved. Meanwhile, we continued to receive reports that the si...

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By ACDWebb
07th Feb 2008 14:48

A couple of thoughts from my experience
1) Third party software was not an issue, other than getting the email response, and that is nothing to do with the software which had received the confirmation reply that is the important bit anyway. Having seen my firms filing stats we filed a very large number in the final week. So if you are acting for clients why rely on HMRC software when, as has already been said, reliable third can be found at no great cost.

2) Whilst the final days problems were an annoyance, if one wanted to log in to check payments or somesuch, it was still a huge improvement on the previous year

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04th Feb 2008 16:43

OK so...
How likely is it that a paper return will be rejected by the revenue? All the legislation does is to change the submission dates - and what would be the attitude of the courts if a taxpayer submitted a return on paper which the revenue then rejected... I don't think so do you.

I notice that the revenue have confirmed that if we have religious objections to computers and the internet we can continue to use paper returns.

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By tony61
04th Feb 2008 15:41

referring to a follow up to my post i dont care if the revenue said the words i used "you've had ten months to do this".......its still an unanswerable comment.....

if i did get all my clients tax and accounts papers at the same time (it'll never happen) i'd manage it by saying in the original request letter that the fact that im asking for the records does not mean they will be dealt with the day after or even a month after i receive point is i'd rather have the records in my possession and plan my working hours accordingly.......

i'm not defending the revenue......they have no excuse for what happened to their online service last thursday......they know there will be a deluge of tax returns from previous experience and should increase their servers capacity accordingly......

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By Anonymous
04th Feb 2008 12:16

Paper Return after 31st October
I'd not thought of this before, but now I have, I assume that a paper return would be sent back in the same way as if there was a correction required.

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01st Feb 2008 15:30

Continuing Access Problems
I eventually logged onto the system at 5.15 p.m. yesterday. Today, however, I have had no success, despite trying to log on since 10.00 a.m. At 3.30 p.m., I am still sitting here endlessly clicking refresh to no avail.

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02nd Feb 2008 20:46

I submitted over 120 tax returns ın january and every sıngle one went through wıthın seconds. As someone has pointed out third party software users did not encounter these problems

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01st Feb 2008 17:20

No capacity?
If 170,000 people filed yesterday, assuming the average return takes about an hour, that implies a concurrency of around 7000 users. If most people are like me, they spend the majority of their "filing time" looking for P60's, tax vouchers etc, and only perform an action on the website every few minutes.

The HMRC online software isn't overly complex - its just a set of basic HTML forms, some Javascript form validation and some simple back-end calculations.

Most internet systems if built correctly can handle many thousands of requests per /second/, so it amazes me how HMRC fail to get this right year after year.

Maybe they should take a leaf out of some of the high volume ticketing sites such as Tickemaster who can scale up to handle large "quick sellout" concerts that sell hundreds of thousands of tickets in the space of a few hours.


(up till 1am failing to get his return submitted. Got it done at 7am this morning)

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01st Feb 2008 17:04

Who's fault?
Did Tony mean to use the favourite HMRC line "you've had ten months to do this" ?

Consider what would happen if ALL clients did as suggested, ie, provide information by, say, the end of May and you were then faced with preparing 100 sets of accounts and Tax Returns in one go. Which would you do first? Why would you leave others until later? Perhaps you would even decide to spread out the work so that it was completed evenly throughout the period.

The point has been made before. Many people do not choose to wait until the deadline (although I concede that some do) but use the time to deal effectively with all clients.

HMRC do not help the process if their systems cannot cope. I agree that call-centre staff may get frustrated but they should have appropriate training to deal with their "customers" without suggesting that it is the agents fault.

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01st Feb 2008 16:58

Next year....
Of course next year will be expected to be even more manic given the rules concerning submission of paper returns by 31 October. But just consider this:

A paper return is submitted on 31 January next year - the revenue issue a penalty notice but provided that the tax has been paid in full there will be no penalty, of course as a late submission it may get picked for investigation and there is an extended investigation window which is still going to be a year from the quarter date, the quarter date is 31 January and so the investigation window will be - exactly the same as if the rules had not been changed!

Is there actually any point to the Lord Carter amendments in FA 2007?

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01st Feb 2008 16:52

Taking The Piss[***]
Congratulations to HMRC for being highly commended on 22nd January 2008.

For what?

Why, for their Tax Self Assessment Online system of course!

Don't believe me?

Have a look at this:

HMRC successfully managed an overall 45% year-on-year uplift in online self assessment filings and an increase of almost 100% over the peak period up to 31st January 2007. This remarkable increase verified the confidence of taxpayers in the security, availability, speed, accuracy and efficiency of processing over paper-based filing."

Remember folks, we the taxpayers are confident in the speed, security and efficiency of this system.

Are they taking the piss[***]?

More details on

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By tony61
01st Feb 2008 16:47

two recommendations:

dont use revenue software......there are plenty of inexpensive third party systems to choose from.....

get your clients to send the tax return information to you earlier.....

if i was a revenue staffer in a call centre getting abuse from taxpayers and accountants over something i have no control over, ie the revenue website, i'd give them a piece of my mind too......the words "you've had ten months to do this" come to mind.......

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01st Feb 2008 16:39

Self abasement
My spellcheck does not recognise self-assessment and comes up with self abasement! Perhaps this is something that the Government and HMRC should try.

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01st Feb 2008 16:38

Well done Nick James
If HMRC had to pay compensation for problems as highlighted in this thred there Would have been no problems yesterday . So MPs lets get some commercial reality and set a fixed compensation sceme up.

I am sure there would never be a payout because resouces would be in place to make sure the systems work. Maybe Lord Carter's stick approach should be aimed at the people involved at HMRC.

I used Keytime software and had no troubing filing all our returns electronically. THe only problem was keeping my eyes open last night. Thank God its the 1st of Feb - who is working late tonight?

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01st Feb 2008 16:35

Too early for compulsion
In my view Lord Carter was too ambitious in his proposals.
We all want to do our best to co-operate with HMRC, but the system is not yet sufficiently robust. The problems should have been identified and ironed out before setting the new deadline for paper returns. There are still problems with pdf attachments. I am sure there are other glitches. The major accountancy firms were well advised to defer committing to wholesale electronic submission when the system cannot be trusted.
It is sad if the accountancy bodies are afraid of annoying HMRC. I suspect that that is the case, as Rob Lewis comments in his article. If one party is afraid of the other, what hope is there of having a constructive dialogue?
Many taxpayers who filed their returns online or otherwise long before 30 September did not receive calculations or statements until late January. This caused great confusion and not a little anxiety.

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01st Feb 2008 16:10

Not happy!
Its a farce.

I put aside Wednesday and Thursday to file literally dozens of returns, knowing that many clients will not get the information to you until the very last minute.

From late in the afternon on Wednesday the system was "temporarily unavailable". I continued trying all night, eventually accessing the system at 1am in the morning, at which time I filed one return and called it a day.

The following morning I called and emailed the help desk several times. Eventually I had a reply saying that the system was running again from 2am. I can assure the IR that it was not. Again I tried all day and evening, until at 2am I was able to gain access. I filed a couple of returns and called it a day.

The following morning (by now Friday, today) I was able to file a couple of returns before 9, then the system was down again, all morning.

Several emails and phone calls later I was informed by the help desk that the deadline will not be extended and to "keep trying".

The implication is that things will quieten down this evening and we will be able file then. Thanks very much, do the IR think we would like to be working Friday evening filing returns when we have already spent the remainder of the week doing so?

So on the very day when the IR must be aware that the majority of returns will be filed, they have a system incapable of dealing with the volume.

The comment that it is our own fault for leaving it so late is a joke, isnt it? The point about a deadline is that is when you have to comply by, and if it wasnt for these problems, we would have done so.

We are now into our third day of trying to access the system, at the request of the IR. Does anyone know whether we can claim compensation for the time which has been wasted, and which will be wasted fielding calls from clients when they receive penalty notices?

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01st Feb 2008 15:48

enquiry window extension
I too was concerned that the comment by HMRC that returns submitted on 1st February would 'not incur a penalty' but it didn't mention whether they would be deemed 'late'.

I queried this with a local office and was advised that any returns submitted before midnight 1st Feb would be treated as if received before 31st Jan 2008. Therefore there will be no extension to the enquiry window.

Ill be keeping that email safe for future reference!

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01st Feb 2008 15:44

Filing deadline
I may be wrong, but I don't think the Revenue actually have the power to extend the filing deadline for self-assessmen tax returns. What they do instead is to announce that they will not levy penalties on people who file a day late. This falls within their 'care and management' powers. However, if someone files on 1 February because the Revenue's system crashed on 31 January they have still defaulted.

As the last-minute rush happens every year one would expect the Revenue to be geared up for it.

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01st Feb 2008 14:52

Revenue v third party software
If, as suggested, users of third party software were not affected by the "crash", perhaps Revenue resources should be spent on enabling more people to access third party software rather than developing its own software?

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