In the first three months of 2017 HMRC released draft legislation with more details of how Making Tax Digital (MTD) will work when the project is launched in April 2018.
As MTD moves into the public beta testing phase, more questions continue to arise alongside emerging MTD guidance and legislation.
While the tax department has responded to numerous requestions for clarifications, their explanations have sometimes prompted yet more questions.
To help navigate the uncertainties surrounding MTD, AccountingWEB has compiled this reference archive of responses from key Revenue staff working on the digital project.
Q: Who will be required to comply with the Making Tax Digital regime and when?
A: The latest timetable for the start of MTD, subject to exemptions, is:
- April 2018 for income tax businesses and landlords with turnover above the VAT threshold (£83,000 from April 2017) (excluding some larger partnerships)
- April 2019 for income tax businesses and landlords with turnover below the VAT threshold and for VAT
- April 2020 for corporation tax and income tax for partnerships with turnover of more than £10m
Consulting tax editor Rebecca Cave added in a recent MTD podcast: “The threshold for the first wave of MTD joiners happens to be set at a turnover level equal to the VAT registration threshold, but this does not mean the taxpayer is required to be VAT registered. Landlords of residential property, doctors and dentists will generally not be VAT registered as their sales are exempt from VAT. But these people will join MTD from the first accounting period that starts on and after 6 April 2018, where their turnover for the previous period was in excess of the VAT threshold (£85,000 from 1/4/17). April 2019 is going to be the big bang for MTD. Most businesses will start some quarterly reporting for accounting periods starting on or after that date. All those unincorporated businesses who are deferred from April 2018, will start to make quarterly reporting from the accounting period that starts on or after 6 April 2019. All businesses who are VAT registered will have to make some form of quarterly reporting for VAT periods that start on or after 1 April 2019, but only in respect of VAT figures. HMRC hasn't made it clear exactly what data will have to be reported yet. Only companies who are not VAT registered will be able to wait until 2020 to start to make quarterly MTD reports.” (17 Mar 2017)
Q: Is the speed of this project driven by the need to justify and show a return on the £1.3bn tech investment HMRC has enjoyed?
A: “The need to help businesses get their tax right and give them more certainty over their tax affairs drives the delivery timetable, not the government’s investment in HMRC. Nor is cost-cutting driving the reforms. Only £227m of the Government’s overall investment in HMRC is for Making Tax Digital for Business (MTDfB). It is also important to remember that the changes are being introduced gradually, with new processes being rolled out over a number of years. This staggering of start dates will allow time for products, services and systems to be tested and refined at the piloting stage, before mandation.” (24 Feb 2017):
Q: Would it not be sensible to address small company tax simplification first - to get that right - and then digitise?
A: “We are liaising closely with the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) on opportunities to simplify the tax system in support of MTDfB. The OTS report into the simplification of corporation tax is due to be published before the end of March 2017. MTD presents a unique opportunity to design in a much simpler tax system, in both policy and administration. Simplifying tax for small business is a continuous process, and will carry on before and after digitisation.” (24 Feb 2017)
Q: The consultation and legislative overviews didn't mention the idea of incentives or support for businesses making the transition - can you tell us whether HMRC will bring any proposals forward to do this?
A: “As explained in the consultation response documents, the government is still considering what support could be offered to businesses.”
Q: Will presenting so much of the detail in secondary legislation give HMRC a freer rein to devise and alter systems without parliamentary scrutiny? Do you see any risks as a result of this, for example to ensure that software specs accurately reflect legislation?
A: “No. We are clear that the regulations need to be available as early as possible before MTDfB requirements begin, in order to give software developers certainty as to the products they need to build, although we will also look to provide that certainty in other ways. We have no plans to continually revisit the regulations.”
Q: How will technicalities be reviewed in secondary legislation to ensure they are correctly implemented? Will there be a process to ensure that software specs accurately reflect legislation?
A: “The regulations will include some provisions setting out what MTD-compatible software needs to be capable of doing. HMRC’s Terms of Collaboration (including the accompanying annexes and supporting documentation) that we are developing with the software industry will address a wide range of issues including free software functionality requirements, security standards, cyber security, data protection, etc. as well as any other requirements that we expect developers to build into the packages (for example to reflect legislative requirements) they will offer to enable taxpayers to meet their obligations under MTDfB. HMRC will publish this later this year.” (24 Feb 2017)
Q: Small businesses are still blissfully unaware of what will be required from them for MTDfB in the next two to three years. What measures is HMRC going to take to educate, migrate and train them for MTD?
A: “Our intention has always been widen our communications activity once we have received the government’s response to the consultations which enable us to provide more tailored messaging. We will use our range of channels to communicate with businesses and tax agents about what is happening, warming them up to the change and advising them when they should consider choosing a software package and getting familiar with it.” (8 Feb 2017)
Q: Is the underlying PAYE system (and RTI data quality) robust enough to cope?
A: “HMRC is investing heavy in upgrading its underlying infrastructure, and we undertake performance testing of all components to ensure these can take the expected loads before releasing new services. From April 2017 we will be making better use of RTI data to make automatic adjustments to PAYE codes as they happen, rather than waiting until the end of the tax year.” (9 Feb 2017)
- This doesn't answer the data quality issue. Problems with RTI data have been reported by AccountingWEB members, Kate Upcraft and others including Mark Fowler, director of Gateway and Welfare, London Borough Croydon at the Commons Work & Pensions select committee on 23 January. Robin Williamson, technical director at the LITRG, told the Lords Economic Affairs committee on 6 Feb 2017: “Even now, we are still seeing [RTI] error rates running at about 50% for pensioners on low incomes.”
Q: Who will determine what nudges and prompts are included in MTD software, if it is the software providers, who will check that the nudges & prompts are in line with tax law?
A: “HMRC is aware of the common errors and mistakes that customers can make and will provide a list of helpful nudges and prompts to software developers, with appropriate messaging to help customers get things right before finalising their return at the end of the year.” (9 Feb 2017)
- What happens if a taxpayer relies on nudge/prompt in software which is wrong - penalty for taxpayer or liability for software provider?
Q: Is there a specification for MTD-compatible record keeping and filing apps that we can review?
A: “We have created a number of documents for our vendors, aimed at three different levels within their organisations: high level strategic (vision and policy); mid-level analysis (prototypes, roadmap); and low level development (APIs and supporting code documentation). All of these have a wraparound set of FAQs to help enhance understanding amongst vendors. These documents have been made available to vendors and are working on more to further that level of understanding.” (9 Feb 2017)
Q: Draft legislation (Sch 1A para 11(5) &(6)) says, “regulations may allow any authorisation or requirement for which the regulations may provide to be given by means of a specific or general direction given by the Commissioners.” What does “specific or general direction” mean? Does this give HMRC the power to determine the standards to be set for tax software?
A: “The provisions related to electronic communications between taxpayers and HMRC. It is frequently the case that regulations on such matters will provide for directions about, for example, who may communicate information to HMRC electronically or the way in which information must be sent electronically, whether from the taxpayer to HMRC or vice versa. While MTD regulations may include provisions about what tax software needs to be able to do, it is unlikely we would use a Commissioner’s direction to determine standards for software.” (24 Feb 2017)
Q: How can taxpayers have confidence in the tax software if HMRC is both a tax collecting body and a standards setting body?
A: “Taxpayers can have confidence in the tax software and this is precisely because we are a tax collecting body. It is in HMRC’s interest to set standards, through the Terms of Collaboration, that will make the software secure and easy to use and, therefore, best help businesses to get their tax right.” (24 Feb 2017)
Q: Has HMRC considered the strong risk of extra rework as botched categorisation and disallowable expenses start going into the MTD system and has it made allowances in its calculations for extra expenses that might be claimed?
A: “Most businesses filing returns will have tax to pay and their sales are worth more than their expenses. Random based enquiries show that poor record keeping leads to either losing or forgetting to record both sales and expense invoices. This will result in a net under-declaration as sales errors will be greater than the corresponding expense. MTDfB will tend to reduce the tax gap caused by error/Failure to Take Reasonable Care (FTRC) as more businesses pay the right amount of tax. To estimate the reduction in the error and FTRC tax gap we used two separate panels of experienced frontline staff to review the tax losses found in previous small business compliance checks and judge whether the tax losses were caused by record keeping errors or FTRC, and if so how much of the tax losses would have been prevented by MTDfB. These numbers were then validated against a range of research, such as previous surveys and interviews with small businesses. We are confident that our estimates have a sound foundation, focus on relevant behaviours and are prudent in what they are saying.” (24 Feb 2017)
Q: Can the department realistically deliver MTD if there are no MTD APIs in place for agents to interface with taxpayer records? We understand that only one has been implemented so far - and there must numerous APIs needed for the MTD public beta to go live in April?
A: “We have been working closely with Software Developers, and have a number of APIs available in our test area to enable agents to use the MTD Service. We anticipate that those services will be built into software products and made available to tax agents at various stages of the public beta period, enabling them to identify themselves to HMRC as an agent, become authorised to act for a client and interact with the MTD service on their client’s behalf. This phased availability will allow developers and tax agents to provide feedback on the service to HMRC, and we in turn will be able to make iterative improvements in line with that feedback. Some developers will have products ready for the start of the live trial in April; others will be ready later in the year.” (24 Feb 2017)
Q: Have any other developers besides the 20 currently listed made a commitment to HMRC that they will provide free software?
A: “There are thirty seven developers involved in the private and public betas. There is an appetite for free software amongst developers. We are currently finalising the minimum requirements for free products. Our Terms of Collaboration that we are developing with the software industry will address a wide range of issues including free software functionality requirements, security standards, cyber security, data protection, etc. as well as any other requirements that we expect developers to build into the packages they will offer to enable taxpayers to meet their obligations under Making Tax Digital for Business (MTDfB). HMRC will publish this later this year.” (24 Feb 2017)
- Will HMRC provide guidance to businesses as which form of software they need to use, or should they only provide a list of vendors as now?
Q: Can the public beta go live if detail on the information to be submitted and application programming interfaces (APIs) to transfer that data is missing?
A: “When the service goes into Public Beta in April 2017 as a minimum viable product (MVP), it will consist of two main APIs. The first being the main dataset (the list of fields that are submitted to HMRC through the Update process), and an additional API which will allow an Agent to add a client. The first API has been available for testing since mid-January, and will be finalised shortly. The second is in “sandbox” now and whitelisted to the private beta developers who will be developing this service. Through regular communications with vendors, and visibility of earlier versions of these APIs, we feel that vendors will have enough time to develop a package for April utilising these APIs.” (24 Feb 2017)
Q: Can HMRC say what is likely to happen with these definitions and APIs?
A: “We have set out the timeline for confirming the datasets for the APIs that support the MVP for April, the definitions will be defined shortly for the start of Public Beta. We work very closely with the software industry and we will listen closely to their feedback and use this as part of our approach to add to and updated all APIs over time releasing them into the “sandbox” for development and testing.”
Q: How will people be selected for the public beta - and will they be able to opt out of the self assessment system if they do so?
A: “Our intention is to open the public beta, to all businesses and UK landlords, in essence they will self-select by volunteering to join. Obviously we need to ensure the pilot is fully representative and we will be writing to a number of businesses with various criteria to encourage subscription by some groups, for example to those who show no indicators that they are already using software. The pilot itself will start, as is industry standard practice, with a minimum viable product, but functionality will be quickly added so all business types who will be impacted by MTD can take part. Our communications will make it clear what type of business can join at the start, and when others can join throughout the year. It is not a question of opting out of the Self-Assessment system. By subscribing to the pilot, and then complying with the conditions (sending in summary updates, End of Year activity, and where appropriate all other tax information) there will be, for the relevant year, no requirement to subsequently submit a self-assessment return because the taxpayer will have already met their statutory obligations.” (24 Feb 2017)
In an interview with AccountingWEB, Theresa Middleton confirmed that businesses in MTD pilot programme will not have to complete an SA tax return as they will report any other income directly in their digital tax account.
- How will other claims be made which are normally done through the tax return?
- If the software for agents to access the personal digital tax account is not ready before the autumn of 2017, how will tax advisers be able to opt their clients into the beta, or take them out of self assessment if they have joined the beta on their own initiative?
Q: Where is the Agent Services project in all of this? Agents are going to be crucial in getting small businesses prepared and trained for this process. How can they support clients if the tech infrastructure has passed them by?
A: “We agree that Agents play a crucial role in getting their clients ready for MTD. Agent Services is part of the overall MTDfB Programme and is an integral part of the solution to ensure Agents can act on behalf of their clients for MTD. The programme will be delivering an interface for testing as part of our public Beta in coming months.” (9 Feb 2017)
Q: What data has HMRC collected from the private beta tests in recent months? How many end-users have been involved? What experiences did they have?
A: “Businesses who have volunteered for the private beta have been allocated different software products, from different software suppliers. We have been working with the supplier to ensure between us we don’t overwhelm volunteers with research queries, preferring that they have time to use the product. As each supplier has their own research methodology, we have arranged to review and analyse their results. We also conducted our own survey with participants before they started to use the product, and will conduct a second when the trial ends, that data and the data collected from developers will help us understand transition issues to help us determine how best to provide help and support.” (24 Feb 2017)
Q. Will there be a lenient approach to penalties when the system begins?
A: “To support customers during the transition to MTD, the HMRC has committed to giving a soft landing to MTD. Customers will be given a period of at least 12 months from when they are mandated before they are charged any late submission penalties under MTD. There will be no extension of powers; in particular, there will be no enquiries into the new regular updates. Existing customer safeguards (time limits and appeal rights) will be retained.” (24 Feb 2017)
The government has now published a further consultation document on proposals for late submission penalties.
- Beta testing is starting in April 2017 for a system that won’t be legislated until Finance Act 2017, around July. Can HMRC and developers meet the April timetable if so much is left to secondary legislation?
Q: What needs to be done to integrate VAT Online with MTD? How is that work progressing?
A: “Part of the solution for MTD is to create a MTD VAT service and integrate this into the overall solution, this is scheduled for live operation by April 2019.” (24 Feb 2017)
Q: Will the filing date for VAT returns be reduced by seven days to align with MTD filing deadline and eliminate the need for two separate submissions?
A: “We want to make it easy for VAT registered business to make just one submission covering both the information needed for direct tax and VAT, so we will facilitate that providing for common deadlines for MTD updates for both taxes. However, there are no plans to change the deadline by which VAT payments must be made.” (24 Feb 2017)
- VAT schemes - paragraph 20 of response doc Bringing tax into digital age: “The government has no current plans to mandate the maintenance of VAT scheme or partial exemption calculations in the digital software. Businesses will be able to choose how to make their VAT scheme calculations (for example in a spreadsheet or on paper) and enter the necessary adjustments directly into their MTDfB software’s VAT Account.” Does this reference to schemes included in the flat rate scheme?
- Will companies do one single report for CT and VAT or separate reports?
- When and how will VAT reporting be integrated with MTD quarterly reporting?
- Is the goal for the MTD filing to be the same action as the VAT return (one filing action) or will there be two different filings for the same quarter - one MTD update and one VAT return?
- When will the testing on an integrated solution start?
- Will MTD filings also be integrated with VAT MOSS returns?
With thanks to officials at HMRC (including Theresa Middleton), Rebecca Cave, Thomson Reuters, TaxCalc and AccountingWEB members. Keen to keep up with digital tax developments? Sign up for our free monthly MTD digest
If you have any questions or comments on MTD, add them below and we will seek the answers or an official response.