HMRC called on to review helpline hours and SA penaltiesby
HMRC should extend helpline opening hours over the self assessment period and apply an automatic two-month waiver of late filing penalties, the ICAEW urged in the latest busy season intervention from a professional body.
ICAEW’s chief executive Michael Izza sent a letter to HMRC’s Jim Harra yesterday to highlight concerns from his members around HMRC’s restricted helpline opening hours and, due to the “deteriorating situation”, consider an automatic two month waiver of late filing penalties.
Harra had previously told the professional bodies that HMRC had no plans to waive late file penalties as it didn’t want to give a “blanket signal that it's OK to file late”, but instead said HMRC would accept pandemic-related personal or business disruption as a reasonable excuse and an extension to the appeal process.
Since Harra’s response, the impact of the recent Covid-19 restrictions has affected ICAEW members both personally and in regards to their firms, due to the closure of schools, staff sickness and self-isolation, and an increase in clients needing assistance with CJRS claims.
Izza said the combination of all this has “significantly increased the resource constraints on those who at this time of year would be working hard to complete the filing of tax returns by the 31 January deadline”.
But with the self assessment deadline falling on a Sunday, Izza called on Harra to open HMRC helplines for the last two weekends of January and to restore agent’s priority access.
“[ICAEW] members are finding it much harder to contact HMRC to resolve tax return related queries and we are hearing reports of members waiting for over half an hour to get through to HMRC,” wrote Izza.
Trouble getting through to HMRC helplines is proving to be a headache for AccountingWEB readers. AccountingWEB contributor Jason Croke said on Any Answers, “Anything to do with VAT registrations, VAT returns, letters and emails just ignored, phones not answering, the registration team message cuts you off after telling you they can't take messages.”
AccountingWEB readers shared similar helpline horror stories from the past few months. Any Answers regular NH, for example, is currently trying to get a response from an inspector on a VAT refund enquiry who stopped answering the phone or emails for two months.
After taking three months to get an SDLT refund, Croke thinks Izza’s letter should go further and not just focus on the January year-ends. “The whole of HMRC is not fit for purpose at present,” he said.
Relax self assessment
The ICAEW’s letter comes after the ACCA advocated similar relaxation of the self assessment deadline.
ACCA’s head of technical advisory, Glenn Collins called on HMRC to review the self assessment deadline, citing examples of where the increase in Covid-related workload has had a detrimental effect on their members' welfare and on their clients.
Izza signs off his letter by acknowledging that the filing rates have held up, with HMRC reporting at the start of January that 55% of taxpayers have already filed - but he puts this down to the work agents did in “the final quarter of 2020 rather than current pressures”.
“We have supported HMRC’s decision to leave the filing deadline unchanged and members will continue to make every effort to file as many returns as possible by the deadline for the reasons set out previously," Izza said. “However, to relieve the mounting pressure on tax agents and their clients, we believe that HMRC should announce an automatic waiver of late filing penalties as soon as possible.”