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HMRC called on to review helpline hours and SA penalties


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.

15th Jan 2021
Editor AccountingWEB
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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”. 

HMRC helplines

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.”

Replies (10)

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By Crouchy
16th Jan 2021 12:48

No one has a problem with HMRC observing social distancing or being COVID secure

however, COVID shouldn't be an excuse for HMRC to give poor service, and frankly thats what they are doing at the moment (worse than usual I should say!)

They have had staff working from home for some time now, so there really should be no excuse or reason as to why they can't be open and working at their pre-covid hours, or even with extended hours at this time. the fact that they aren't and don't see it as a problem really does beggar belief

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By SteveHa
18th Jan 2021 09:09

Frankly, they should also review the name "helpline" and change it to something that doesn't automatically suggest help.

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Replying to SteveHa:
By Paul Crowley
18th Jan 2021 11:56

Waste of time line?

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By Homeworker
18th Jan 2021 10:27

I have had to wait half an hour to get through to the agent helpline on several occasions (is this suspended? I didn't know if it is!), so I tend to wait if I can until I have two or three queries and to be fair they will then deal with them one after the other, saving some time at least.

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Replying to Homeworker:
By djn
19th Jan 2021 12:28

I was told that the agent line is just answered by the same ones who answer any other caller. This is the reason we are all having to wait so long to get any call answered.
The amount of time we have spent this year on furlough claims, furlough advice, researching for grants and communicating these with clients, speaking to clients on how they will survive etc has been huge. We are considerably behind compared to previous years and so a lot of tax returns will be late.
I can't see the logic of HMRC forcing everyone to appeal a penalty that is going to be reduced anyway. Just waiver them for 3 months.
Even companies house have done it and they never budge on penalties.
I predict an announcement next week to confirm this. Just saves huge amounts of work for everyone.

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By Rammstein1
18th Jan 2021 10:50

I tried to call them yesterday as a clients amended 2019 Tax Return hadn't been processed and forgot there would be no one to answer the phone. Why are accountants working longer hours in January and HMRC working less?!

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By kevinringer
19th Jan 2021 12:52

HMRC issued an email to all agents yesterday reminding the agents of the SEISS3 deadline of 29 January. How does HMRC expect us to handle all the SEISS, CJRS etc work when we're already flat out doing SA? I know we don't submit the SEISS3 claims but HMRC's guidance is woolly and loads of clients want to discuss whether they qualify or not. It's clear if you're a business forced to close, but if you can still trade it is not always clear.

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By kevinringer
19th Jan 2021 12:54

Don't forget the tax credits deadline. That is 31 January too but because agents can only update figures over the phone (there's no online facility for agents) that means we can only update figures when the TCO phone lines are open. And they'll be closing 29 January 6 pm. So in effect, the tax credits deadline is 29 January. Which is also the SEISS3 deadline. How does HMRC expect us to be able to service both?

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By North East Accountant
19th Jan 2021 12:55

I don't know why ICAEW bother.... HMRC will just do what it wants anyway.

ICAEW are far too cosy with HMRC and should adopt a much more adversarial stance if they want to make any real impact.

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By kevinringer
19th Jan 2021 12:57

It was announced yesterday on HMRC's Agent Forum (see https://community.hmrc.gov.uk/forums/agentforums/sa/37827b94-9d4e-eb11-8...) that the SA helpline will be operating extended hours on the deadline weekend.

Webchat will be available Sat 23rd - 08:00 to 20:00.
Telephony and Card Payment Lines: Saturday 30 January: 08:00 to 18:00 and Sunday 31 January: 09:00 to 18:00
Webchat: Saturday 30 January and Sunday 31 January 08:00 to 20:00

But there's no extension to the tax credit helpline and because agents can only report figures via the helpline that means the deadline for tax credits is in fact 29 January.

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