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Benneyworth: A small practitioner’s journey into MTD

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Rebecca Benneyworth responds to AccountingWEB members’ negative views of MTD with observations drawn from her own expierence working digitally with very small client businesses.

22nd Oct 2021
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I have been following the comments on AccountingWEB regarding the MTD announcements for years. Many of you will know that I have been interested in and involved in MTD since before it was announced to the public in December 2015. I first heard of the project (which was called something else at first) in August 2015 at a presentation for the Administrative Burdens Advisory Board which I have been a member of for around eight years.

Not for me – initially

I found the presentation about the future of tax in a digital world fascinating, although I could not see how my motley collection of clients would ever join in. At the time there was no suggestion that the new ideas would become compulsory, and they looked like an interesting idea – but not for me!

Things were getting more and more difficult for me in my practice at the time. My lecturing commitments were huge and my clients were as uncooperative with their records as ever. My story about asking clients to bring their books in early in the year that I underwent chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy for advanced breast cancer – with the result that absolutely none did – still provokes laughter, but unfortunately it was true.

I could not persuade my clients to part with their attempt at records early and I was beginning to hate my practice. Unlike other practitioners, I don’t have the luxury of running latecomers into February – my lecturing business starts up again in early February and there is minimal time for client work until Easter.

The crunch point

I had reached crunch point: either I had to radically change my practice or give up. I literally couldn’t go on any longer. But a number of things had conspired to offer me a way out. I had worked with AccountingWEB with a company called BankStream – and gained insight into what a bank feed could do – way before open banking.

I read the ICAEW Tomorrow’s Practice, which also referred to bank feeds and how artificial intelligence could recognise regular transactions and allocate them appropriately within accounting records to reduce processing time.

My way out seemed to be to go digital – go digital or die if you will. But what about my bloke with an exercise book, a pencil and a duplicate book for his invoices? Well, he was a good place to start.

I charged a fairly hefty fee because his records were so dreadful – hours spent trying to separate out a tangle of bank, credit card and cash payments so I could do a bank reconciliation. The fee was large enough to pay for a software licence and for me (joined by my daughter) to bring the bookkeeping in house. In fact, the move produced a better recovery on the time spent, as there was no mess to sort out and no waiting for records.

That spurred me on, and I started to move clients very slowly onto digital records.

The threshold issue

Like many of those commenting on Giles McCallum’s article last week, I was horrified at the thought of my clients being mandated into MTD, and at the £10,000 income threshold. But the last 4-5 years have taught me a lot. I am amazed at how many clients adapted to digital tools.

Of course, some have not – and we have had to be imaginative sometimes to come up with solutions for those who don’t “do” mobile phones or digital in any shape or form. The huge benefit for me is my own experience of being in practice.

I made this shift at first because it was do or die. I continued because I thought if MTD was coming I wanted to be ready for it. Now I cannot ever imagine going back to the drudgery of incomplete records work and the increasingly desperate pleas for paperwork.

Happy bookkeeping in house

I’m happy bringing the bookkeeping in house because I don’t have to spend time (much of which is not chargeable) sorting out the mess after the client has mucked it up. That little lesson was a favourite comment by Frank Woods at BankStream: don’t let them muck it up and then spend hours sorting it out. Why not cut out the middle man and get it right from the start? He is right – it is quicker and easier, and therefore more profitable.

So I’m responding to your comments and your worries – and please don’t accuse me of being out of touch. I have been in practice for 35 years, mainly dealing with mobile hairdressers, fencers, joiners, childminders and the like. I was six months pregnant for the first self assessment season and thought it couldn’t get any worse – how wrong I was!

But I’m now enjoying my practice and welcoming comments from very small businesses who feel more in control of their finances and are gaining confidence with digital technology as time goes on.

The absolute key to MTD is digital records. Get that right and everything else will follow with minimal effort. The technology has developed quickly and there is more to come – we just need to take those first steps. For me – I’m enjoying practice sufficiently that when I stop lecturing this will be my “retirement” – something I could not have imagined six years ago.

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Hear what Rebecca Benneyworth, Steve Cox (IRIS) and HMRC have to say about preparing for MTD at Rebecca's 11:15am "bootcamp" session at the AccountingWEB Live Expo in Coventry on 1 December. Details and links below:

Replies (236)

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Replying to RebeccaBenneyworth:
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By johnjenkins
28th Oct 2021 09:42

What law is that then? The law of the land that says submissions have to be accurate or the law of HMRC that says any old rubbish will do.

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Replying to RebeccaBenneyworth:
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By Moo
04th Nov 2021 10:55

Stupid laws deserve to be challenged. That is one of the benefits of living in a democracy surely?

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Replying to Moo:
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By DavidAWilks
04th Nov 2021 11:25

I quite agree.
Laws are devised to protect people from harm or exploitation. The law surrounding MTD does neither. It will cause people great harm (by the imposition of penalties) and people will be exploited by the imposition of greater fees.
I can see no merit whatsoever in such a law.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By sammerchant
27th Oct 2021 16:37

And yet, if MTD applied only to those with a turnover/rental income matching the VAT threshold, there would not be this wretched problem.

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Replying to sammerchant:
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By lionofludesch
27th Oct 2021 17:00

sammerchant wrote:

And yet, if MTD applied only to those with a turnover/rental income matching the VAT threshold, there would not be this wretched problem.

Indeed.

I would suggest that three simple changes would make the introduction of MTD less of an issue.

1. Phasing in the introduction by mandating at first £85000 turnover, then lowering the threshold at sensible intervals.

2. Staggering the submission dates for the quarterly reports, instead of having the entire business community submitting on the same four dates.

3. HMRC to up their game in terms of both staffing and software. The department is truly a shambles.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
Rebecca Benneyworth profile image
By Rebecca Benneyworth
27th Oct 2021 17:46

1. and 2. My thoughts absolutely 100% - you have expressed my views exactly. The bunching of work is madness. But predicated on the tax quarters idea we now have basis period reform to contend with. More madness, and absolutely not the simplification that is claimed.

3. Goes without saying, irrespective of MTD. But persuading the Treasury that HMRC is possibly more important than the NHS for funding settlements (otherwise we couldn't pay for the NHS) has not yet proved successful.

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Replying to RebeccaBenneyworth:
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By lionofludesch
27th Oct 2021 17:55

RebeccaBenneyworth wrote:

3. Goes without saying, irrespective of MTD. But persuading the Treasury that HMRC is possibly more important than the NHS for funding settlements (otherwise we couldn't pay for the NHS) has not yet proved successful.

Makes you wonder how we used to fund all these local tax offices in the bad old days.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By johnjenkins
28th Oct 2021 09:48

Let's turn that around shall we.
1 HMRC to up their game, answer the phone and deal with the fact that there is no truth in what they say about quarterly updates.
2 Make every business (and I mean every) VAT registered with no payment between business.
3 Phasing in VAT registration for the under £85k over a period of 10 years.
4 Once all that is completed then HMRC can think about MTD and accurate quarterly submissions.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By lh3f9764bg1g
28th Oct 2021 15:48

Whilst I would love to see the threshold increased to £85,000 I would nevertheless make the observation that those who are VAT registered already make quarterly MTD submissions. I appreciate that those submissions do not include a break-down in to categories but if I had been planning this . . . . . . and if I had been wanting to receive this (the categorised) information . . . . . I'd have changed the way the VAT Returns are submitted so that they don't just get what they get now but also get what they want to get in the future. Simples! Hence this could be rolled out to the VAT registered fairly painlessly and extended gradually downwards over some years. And there'd still be just four submissions needed - wouldn't that be great!

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Replying to geraldw:
Rebecca Benneyworth profile image
By Rebecca Benneyworth
27th Oct 2021 17:24

Are you saying that you allow all tags to go through without review? I'm astonished. I expect my (in-house) bookkeeper to accurately allocate every transaction, normally by viewing the photo receipt and allocating from there. Anything that they are not sure of goes to 'For Review' which flags it up. Bank feeds are great as they give you the source data, and 'rules' work well for some transactions. But not 100% - so we check the bank balance regularly to identify the odd missing one (a mystery) or duplicate (another mystery). They are rare but foul things up if not picked up at the time.

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Replying to RebeccaBenneyworth:
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By geraldw
27th Oct 2021 18:03

You missed my point. The figures I get are from a registered bookkeeper, but mistakes are made on the tagging of bank feeds. This means that I do check in detail, as was my training in a small firm of accountants many years ago.
So I come back to the point - if bank feeds are not 100% accurate, as you agree, and have to be checked in detail, then how great is this digital revolution ? What is the point of it and how does it save time ?

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Replying to geraldw:
Rebecca Benneyworth profile image
By Rebecca Benneyworth
27th Oct 2021 19:36

Not needing to key in transactions. When I trained in an incomplete records department in the 1970's we were taught that with these jobs the only thing you knew for sure was that the bank statements were correct. Everything else was treated as suspect. So the first job was to prepare a bank analysis using 16 column and a pencil, copying out the entries from the bank statement and working from there.
Nowadays people probably enter this into a spreadsheet and analyse from there.

I believe that keying in transactions is boring and prone to error. Boring makes it doubly prone to error, so if I can get the transactions without them being keyed in I have saved time in keying and error correction. And if the software is clever enough to recognise bank charges and drawings every month (plus Sky and any other rubbish the client puts through the business account) then even better - much less to look at. Much of the work is actually done in Dext - analysing the receipts visually which are then auto matched in the bank feed when they arrive in QuickBooks (but always need review as there may be lots of payments of £30, but not so many of £30.42). Although Dext is an expensive luxury which will not make the cut when they hike their prices by 50% in a little while.

My point is that a bank feed saves (some) time and photo capture makes life easier, but I agree, it cannot be left to its own devices!

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Replying to RebeccaBenneyworth:
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By BryanS1958
28th Oct 2021 18:21

And your bookkeeper can do this for £6 per client per month? Can she do my clients as well:-D

Under MTD, you will need multiple bookkeepers if you have more than a handful of clients and to cover if the bookkeeper is ill or on holiday. There will be a huge demand for bookkeepers. Where are you going to find them and put them? I would suggest bookkeepers will also be bumping up their rates.

Will the cost to the client per month for MTD compliance still be £6 (including VAT presumably - many clients will be unable to recover VAT)? I assume this £6 will ALSO include the cost of software (I have not seen any calculation of how HMRC arrives at the £6 per month cost). After you have paid the software company, the bookkeeper, the additional office space, taken time out your chargeable day to deal with all the additional administration and client/bookkeeper queries how much profit do you expect to make from MTD, or are you willing to do it on a pro bono/loss making basis?

It is a hiding to nothing for all involved. Even HMRC will be utilising their resources to make sense of the garbage they are almost certain to be receiving from DIY shopkeepers turned bookkeepers!

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By moverend
27th Oct 2021 06:39

I would agree with Rebecca in that I have had a similar expeience with implementing software systems for small clients, removing the need for manual work and it ultimately being beneficial for all concerned.

I can, however, symathise with many of the posts here that express concerns about persuading clients to make the change. There have many instances where we have set systems up only for the client to connect the bank feed and then return to the software in 12 months time and all of us be faced with many hundreds of transactions that need reconciling and so there is an extensive education programme needed to get the client invested and involved in the bookkeeping process if they are not familiar with it. For HMRC to dismiss this work as being mininal is laughable and shows how far removed they are from the real world. Small business clients are resistant to change and HMRC are leveraging on the goodwill , knowledge time and skill of accountants who will be the ones having to remain patient, have repeated conversations and either pick up extra bookkeeping work or have repeated conversations on how to operate software. Taxpayers (NOT CUSTOMERS!) will therefore incur signifcant extra costs for this, or where accountants don't feel they can charge for it, the costs will be absorbed by them, and again these will be significant when spread accross a client based.

Our benchmark for what to expect once we have all done this work for HMRC must be real time information for payroll, being the last time HMRC rolled out a requirement to send data in a new digital format on a more regular basis. If that is the benchmark then I'm afraid MTD isn't for me. We experience regular "data disputes" where we submit data through RTI only for it to be corrupted once received. Of course HMRC won't admit that it is correupted - a helpful letter to our client telling them that they owe money from debt management is usually how it starts, followed by us making a telephone call of over an hour to tell a call centre operative reading from a script that the year to date figures on our system don't match theirs. After giving these figures verbally the issue is referred to a "technical team" whose turnaround for such queries is currently between 12 and 24 months! We are told that the debt will be put on hold and won't be chased whilst it is disputed. This usually leads to further letters from debt management and further calls to HMRC, which of course take FOREVER. The experience for the taxpayer during this is poor, it is worrying for them to receive unexpected debt management letters, and of course the while process cast doubts in their minds about the competance of all involved.

If the data dispute has affected an employee, and the employee submits written correspondence to HMRC to advise that they have incorrect figures on their record the employee can expect a written response from the department dealing with Individuals advising that they cannot look into the issue, it was caused by their employer, and that the empolyee should speak with their employer in order for them to correct the issue.

It is clear HMRC are now outsourcing the management of data on their systems to accountants, there is no ackonwldegement that they might have issues in processing data, it is everyone else's fault, not theirs. Where is our compensation for this work? If taxpayers are fined for submitting inaccurate data where is the recourse when HMRC corrupt it? The errors at their end seem careless to me!

I have no faith that this won't repeat when we move to MTD for indivuals. From extensive experience dealing with HMRC and their processing of data I find impossible to beleive that there won't be many similar issues if we move to procesing quarterly submmissions of self assessment data, errors will be made and it will be pinned on the acountants to fix them all. Again this all takes time, costs money and in the case of all of these data disputes sits as unbillable time, ultimately forcing up the cost of fees overall for clients.

HMRC must invest in their systems and make them fit for purpose - we only have to look at the list of exclusions we had for online self assessment filing when tax rules changed two years ago to know that the self assessment system is under-developed. If the department that is charged with collecting taxes cannot programme systems to accept tax calculations on rules it has helped to set, how can it move to MTD. Are they ready? I severaly doubt it and have no desire to pick up the pieces when the car crash happens......

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By Pam Moreland
27th Oct 2021 15:33

For small businesses I am 100% in agreement with digital recording. They need it to make any sense of their business and bank feeds are a big bonus. Well that is so long as clients do them properly and didn't leave out half of one month as I had recently. Absolutely no idea how he managed to do that!
But I cannot see how a landlord with one property and a gross rental income of say £12,000 needs to pay for software and essentially return almost the same figure each quarter. In a lot of parts of the country these landlords will fall below the proposed £10,000 limits but I live near Winchester and monthly rentals for one bedroom properties are now pushing the £1,000 per monthly mark with two bedrooms at £1,200 to £1,400 per month.. And what about London properties?
Go for MTD but make the turnover/rental level higher.

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Replying to Pam Moreland:
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By Rebecca Benneyworth
27th Oct 2021 17:35

I have always agreed that the £10,000 limit is far too low. I would have started at the VAT threshold then brought it down over time - maybe to £50,000 next and then £25,000.

But I can also see the merit in mandating proper records. We already have, and we have a £3,000 penalty for failure to keep records and as far as I can see it has never been imposed - I certainly have not seen any appeals against it, and I would expect to. Most of my clients had records I would classify as somewhere between poor and non existent (I don't regard a bag of 8 bank statements and some receipts as records). I had tried for many years to improve this but they didn't see the benefit to them (where I have I heard that before?) and weren't interested. I would absolutely agree with the statement that better records = more accurate tax liabilities (whether up or down). I would be surprised if anyone on here could disagree.

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Replying to RebeccaBenneyworth:
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By johnjenkins
28th Oct 2021 09:27

"Better records = more accurate tax liabilities". This statement is wrong. What do you do when you get incomplete records, Rebecca? That's right you put them into a format then discuss with client and hey presto you have a tax liability. If the client leaves out cash earnings, they will do that whether or not its digital. I have said this before, there is no point in quarterly updates or mandatory MTD for the under £85k earnings bracket and believe me, Rebecca, I have looked at every which way you can to find even an inkling of substance to HMRC's thinking.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By Jo Nokes
28th Oct 2021 11:36

I've just completed a pensioner's tax return from her rental agent's annual statement, plus her DWP letter and Nationwide staement. It took all of half an hour, and that exemplifies everything that's wrong with MTD as currently proposed (legislated for). Her tax bill will be £35. And she's supposed to file every quarter-how on earth?

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Replying to Jo Nokes:
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By johnjenkins
28th Oct 2021 13:56

This won't just be an isolated case. This sort of thing will be mirrored up and down the country.
How many subbies are there with 20%tax deducted at source????? They know that mostly their tax is paid. So they have to do quarterly updates so that HMRC can tell them what they owe. Pathetic.

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By JackH
28th Oct 2021 13:33

I can obviously see some theoretical benefits of MTD for the taxpayer but they pale into insignificance compared to those for HMRC, who would really just like us all microchipped. My most recent dinosaur tilting at windmills has been forcing HMRC to allow me to register a non-taxpaying trust on TRS. They have a paper form SA404. It is as readily available as a winning lottery ticket. Who wants to obtain a Government Gateway ID for every such family trust? My 50 years of serious specialist tax practice have convinced me that any benefit to the taxpayer from improvements enthusiastically embraced by HMRC in the way they are able to able to do their job is purely incidental. You may now connect your brain by USB cable to MTD Real Time and upload its contents.

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By BryanS1958
28th Oct 2021 15:55

It seems that - at huge cost and for no real purpose, or benefit (particularly for the tax payer) - we are being asked to change from a nation of shopkeepers to a nation of bookkeepers!

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By justsotax
29th Oct 2021 10:56

I am of an age where I have seen this story play out many times before.....

1) Organisation./association/Management emplore a change of strategy and introduce a new 'better' way to do things....
2) Many years of unintended consequences follow (generally not beneficial to anyone)....
3) Then years later someone asks 'why do we do it this way'.....the answer.... no one can remember....at which point go to (1).

As a reminder, or at least as I understood it, this was suppose to close the tax gap, because things would be done more accurately, it was supposed to replace the tax return' and was to come with minimal impact on those completing their tax returns.........200 replies in and I haven't seen anything to suggest any of these mandates will be met.....

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Replying to justsotax:
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By lionofludesch
29th Oct 2021 11:16

justsotax wrote:

I am of an age where I have seen this story play out many times before.....

1) Organisation./association/Management emplore a change of strategy and introduce a new 'better' way to do things....
2) Many years of unintended consequences follow (generally not beneficial to anyone)....
3) Then years later someone asks 'why do we do it this way'.....the answer.... no one can remember....at which point go to (1).

As a reminder, or at least as I understood it, this was suppose to close the tax gap, because things would be done more accurately, it was supposed to replace the tax return' and was to come with minimal impact on those completing their tax returns.........200 replies in and I haven't seen anything to suggest any of these mandates will be met.....

Just so, justso.

As an example, I'll point you in the direction of Child Benefit.

Child Tax Allowances were replaced with a cash benefit in 1979 on the grounds that, if you didn't earn enough to pay tax, a tax allowance wasn't much use to you. In 2001, some bright spark came along and said "Why don't we give folk a tax allowance instead ? Much less work for the Government - employers will pay this money to the employee."

Two years later, someone else says "a tax allowance isn't much use to you if you don't earn enough to pay tax."

[sigh]

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Replying to justsotax:
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By lh3f9764bg1g
30th Oct 2021 11:03

I think if there's one affect that can be guaranteed it is that the accuracy of submissions will be adversely affected. They'll be getting in a complete load of gumph.

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By sammerchant
29th Oct 2021 12:40

I believe this topic is the most contentious I have come across on AccountingWeb. It is quite clear that, with very few exceptions, accountants are against MTD for SA and may be more willing to consider its imposition if the threshold is made more acceptable at £85,000 (the same as the VAT threshold).

It crossed my mind that we MAY find more receptive listeners by approaching those MPs who are qualified accountants. There is a list, published by AccountingWeb following the 2019 elections - see https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/tax/hmrc-policy/election-2019-accountanc... and it is to them we should address our concerns.

We now need a spokesman or two and I would think that those who are most exercised about MTD for SA should put themselves forward.

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Replying to sammerchant:
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By lh3f9764bg1g
30th Oct 2021 12:52

Hear, hear!

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By User deleted
29th Oct 2021 13:26

On 6th April 2024 accountants face a normal full workload for the next tax year of 2024 Self-Assessment Tax Returns, normal accounts preparation and audit from 31st December 2013 onwards and all the normal unforeseen work which derives from a portfolio of clients.

Simultaneously, 4 million taxpayers will be required to submit quarterly accounts to HMRC in a digital format.

Does the accountancy profession have the capacity to deliver this for HMRC?

My view is no which, if I am correct, means there will be the most almighty shambles by July 2024.

I am 72 and I am out of this in the new year. Good luck!

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Replying to User deleted:
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By lionofludesch
29th Oct 2021 13:42

Roger Masters wrote:

Does the accountancy profession have the capacity to deliver this for HMRC?

Been saying this for months - although I'm not sure whether your figures include businesses already using software who, presumably, won't need much hand-holding to make the transition.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By lh3f9764bg1g
31st Oct 2021 11:51

The trouble is that so few are using bookkeeping software (only a couple of ours) and of those that do there's, in all honesty, none that produce "books" that I would want to rely on. If one can get half intelligible VAT information out of what they produce then that's as good a result as one can, usually, expect.

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By Natasha
02nd Nov 2021 11:25

Rebecca, thank you so much I have found your article hugely inspirational. I am a sole practitioner dealing mostly with very small business clients and like you were I am heading for crunch time! The worry of the impending MTD was effecting my self esteem to the point of considering giving up altogether and letting the larger accountancy firms that are better equipped take over my clients.

Your article is very supportive and has helped me forward, I now understand what is required and feel such relief that it will simply be a quarterly return of the total of receipts and payments. I had blown it all out of proportion, but you have given me something to work with and I am now looking to jump on board the digital ship and get my clients gradually moved over sooner rather than later.

I would be interested to know which bookkeeping software's you use as one of my main concerns is how i will access my clients records if they all start using different software? Surely I cant be expected to purchase an annual licence to access them all or be an expert in navigating through numerous versions? Do you have any advice on how to manage this please. The simplest way for me initially will be to set up spreadsheets, I will do some of the bookkeeping myself and train some clients to do their own. However I don't want to limit myself or clients to just spreadsheets if there are other cost effective options.

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By JackH
04th Nov 2021 13:10

I doubt anyone in an official position is going to read these immensely practical criticisms because their ears are made not of tin but of pure concrete. Kicking the can down the road with basis period reform is an admission of semi-defeat. Anything robustly championed by the metronomic Gauke must deserve suspicion and his sojourn in the wilderness is richly deserved. Is he indulging in politics avoidance? But they all foist their barmy tax system improvement schemes on those who have to suffer them while they themselves sublimate into their next lucrative teflon CGI adventure

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By DavidAWilks
08th Nov 2021 09:57

Talking of HMRC's systems and total lack of joined up thinking (well I am now). I received revised 2021 tax calculations for two clients regarding SEISS claims which differed from the information provided to me by the clients. I wrote HMRC on 25 August 2021 asking for a breakdown of their figures to compare with the figures provided to me.
I received a response to both letters today. One says "HMRC cannot disclose any details of SEISS grants and all information must be provided by your client".
The other gives me full details of the grants issued!
Give me b....y strength.
A remark was made a while ago that HMRC was not fit for purposes. Nothing has changed.

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Replying to DavidAWilks:
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By johnjenkins
08th Nov 2021 10:43

Got a 2021 simple tax calculation from HMRC regarding client showing pension and dividend "from information we hold on file". Client has been in a care home for 3 years and company shut at the same time. Can you even imagine what HMRC are going to spew out when they start notifying tax payers of their projected tax liability when quarterly updates start?

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By Self-Employed and Happy
12th Nov 2021 13:22

I often wonder how much HMRC waste in Royal Mail Fees, I bet what they waste could fund many new bodies on the end of telephones (I won't comment if they'd be any good).

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By EnglishRose
08th Nov 2021 17:40

It sounds like we all agree it should not be mandatory. One of the best days of my last few years was when HMRC agreed in writing I did NOT have to move to MTD for VAT (I keep paper records etc). I hope I can hold off MTD for my other tax too....we shall see.

If it is voluntary then older people like I am can keep on as we are and wither on our vines and young people do digital if they want and HMRC will in the end have what they want as I will be dead anyway.

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Replying to EnglishRose:
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By johnjenkins
09th Nov 2021 11:48

Natural progression. No need for mandatory.

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