Owner Kate Upcraft Consultancy Ltd
Share this content
office worker sitting at desk

PAYE: Incorrect liabilities

18th Jan 2017
Owner Kate Upcraft Consultancy Ltd
Share this content

HMRC still says the incorrect liabilities showing on many PAYE accounts are all the fault of the employer or tax agent.

Our fault?

In mid-December HMRC published Agent Update 57 - it was not a cheery Christmas message. That bulletin includes a long section dedicated to telling agents how to run payroll for their clients, drawing attention to all the things that we still do wrong after nearly four years of PAYE under RTI. It’s remarkable that so many payroll professionals are still in business, if we really are so incompetent.

My experience

Last week was a fairly typical week, I travelled around the UK meeting agents and employers helping them with everything from basic payroll to the complexity of salary sacrifice. The people I met were from very diverse sectors and sizes of business, but there’s always one icebreaker that gets them talking about shared experiences.

I normally ask if anyone has had a PAYE scheme with incorrect data and how difficult the inaccuracy has been to resolve. Whatever the size of group I usually find an employer or agent with a story about the reputational damage to their business and their own professional standing, as a result of HMRC’s PAYE data not matching what was submitted.

GOV.UK advice

The Agent Update no. 57 contains a link to the GOV.UK page: ‘fixing problems with running payroll’.  Even the title sets my teeth jarring: The vast majority of employers and agents don’t have problems running their payrolls. They have been doing PAYE since the 1940s and you can be sure that if they weren’t able to pay people accurately and on time employees (and clients) would vote with their feet. 

The GOV.UK page helpfully suggests a list of things to should check if “your PAYE bill isn’t what you expected”. What all of us have a right to “expect” is that the data that we send is the data HMRC receives and then displays back to us. It shouldn’t be a lottery where we wonder what the PAYE account will look like this month once the data has been processed.

Matching up

It isn’t yet possible to check PAYE liabilities in real-time. We have to wait for the business tax account to be “updated” (I use that terminology loosely), when the main batch interface happens. This is normally around 12th of the month for the FPS figures, and then on 22nd of the month when the FPS less EPS amounts (if an EPS is used to reclaim any statutory payment) should match the total remittance paid to HMRC.

The guidance tells us we may get an “incorrect bill and duplicate payroll records” if we make a mistake. It’s still a mystery to me how employers and tax agents, who are almost all using commercial payroll software or HMRC’s Basic PAYE Tools, can create duplicate payroll records and incorrect bills.

The clue is in the next sentence in the GOV.UK guidance: “Both are usually corrected automatically - contact HMRC if your PAYE bill is still wrong by the 12th of the next month”. 

“Corrected automatically”, i.e. without us intervening. That implies it is the central systems which are causing problems with both duplicate records within the national insurance and PAYE service (NPS), and incorrect payments within the Enterprise Tax Management Platform (ETMP).

Looking ahead

The next three years are going to see a revolution in the digital interaction between individuals, businesses and HMRC. Let’s hope at the end of that journey employers and agents are not still being blamed for data inaccuracies as they are after three years of RTI.

I understand there are some employers who are incorrectly reporting PAYE either deliberately or through ignorance, but in my experience, they must be very much the minority. Day-in day-out I meet dedicated professionals spending significant amounts of non-chargeable time helping HMRC untangle their own data issues in order to reassure clients that all is well with their PAYE data.


Have you been affected by PAYE data you have submitted being mangled by the HMRC machine? Please let us know how you resolved the problem, by posting below.


Replies (15)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

By SteveHa
18th Jan 2017 10:04

RTI is an absolute joke, and has been since day one. Even the design, requiring a separate EPS is flawed, and presumably done that way in the hope that employers will forget to claim the reductions, thus netting more for the exchequer. So much for "only collecting the tax that is legally due".

I predict MTD will be at least equally bad, and probably considerably worse.

Thanks (3)
Chris M
By mr. mischief
18th Jan 2017 18:12

They are an utter shambles. Worse than that, their first port of call is always to point the finger at everyone else bar their own incompetent, slapdash, amateurish selves.

I'd sooner pick up the phone to the nastiest, meanest, shoutiest client I have ever had than HMRC. At least clients answer the bloody phone in the first place!

Thanks (2)
By RobertD
19th Jan 2017 10:23

I had a paye issue yesterday whereby the 05/10 payment had been set against the 05/01 and a debt co letter had been sent to the client. I opened the web chat, informed the operator of the issue and went through security. He sorted it out while I got on with something else; occasionally answering any q's he had. It was quite painless and no call waiting. Doesn't detract from the fact that the agent screen is almost impossible to decipher or that the error happened in the first place.

Thanks (1)
By amckillop
20th Jan 2017 10:03

I have recently discovered an error in a client's payroll for 15/16. It is a very simple scheme. Each month there is always tax & nic to pay. Every month is submitted on time. HMRC mangled 1 month's submission showing the tax figure AS A MINUS FIGURE. My client does not understand how to interpret the online account so when HMRC sent a notice to pay a much reduced amount at the end of the year he did so. Now he owes £1,700 in unpaid tax even though the Sage submissions were correct. Had HMRC not mangled the submission for September 2015 he would have paid the outstanding liability in April 2016. HMRC have not yet contacted him about the inaccuracy but we are waiting on the demand, to challenge them on the quality of their system. It's outrageous that businesses spend money on software, comply with deadlines, pay liabilities only to find HMRC muck up their hard work and then try to blame them for inaccuracies. I will be demanding that my client is given time to pay the outstanding balance as it is a result of their incompetence. Simply not good enough.

Thanks (1)
Chris M
By mr. mischief
20th Jan 2017 10:16

One simple thing:

How many of us would send statements to our clients not showing their payments made in the period concerned? NONE I would suggest. NOT ONE SINGLE accountant or book-keeper in the UK would be enough of a bungler to design statements that net off charges made against payments received onto one line instead of a line for each transaction.

The starting point is rubbishy statements that are totally unprofessional designed by blundering idiots. From that starting point the endgame is clear and obvious. A MESS. A SHAMBLES.

Thanks (2)
By MzEden
20th Jan 2017 13:24

On the online account it's headed up 'Amount paid in period' but it's actually 'payments allocated to this period by HMRC regardless of when they were actually paid. We will also split a payment made on a date into many smaller amounts just to confuse matters further and spread those amounts over 3 or 4 months!'
This makes finding the origin of an over/under payment very hard and time consuming. Which is probably the desired result.
I have a client who has 'overpaid' over £15,000.
This is assuming that the figures HMRC have as RTI information received bears any resemblance to what we have submitted via moneysoft monthly for the year to date. It doesn't.
I've checked what they've been told on a handy report and it is what we thought it was so god knows where their figures have come from!
I now have the pleasure of contacting their 'helpline' to try and get an answer.

Thanks (1)
By Ethne
20th Jan 2017 22:18

Mistakes happen, but why make it so difficult to clarify the problem and then NIGH ON IMPOSSIBLE TO RECTIFY. Wouldn't wish the need to perform an Earlier Year Update via Basic PAYE Tools on anyone.

Thanks (1)
By Swimmingagainstthe Tide
23rd Jan 2017 11:02

When our client (who does their own payroll) found the bailiffs outside the door demanding £1,500 they rang us. We managed to persuade the bailiff to go away and set about finding out why HMRC were demanding £1500 and getting it fixed. That was in April 2015 and the amount due related to 2013/14 tax year. It was a duplicate record problem and was a problem with HMRC systems. To cut an extraordinarily story short we have since billed the client over £1,800 for the time sorting it out and despite having been told verbally, and in writing, at least three times that they have sorted the problem the client's dashboard (the agent version is useless!) is still incomprehensible and clearly wrong. HMRC has agreed to pay at least part of the bill (but has not actually paid anything yet) but only after a ridiculous amount of pressure. We have contacted umpteen different people within HMRC and nobody seems capable of actually changing any data. We keep being told that a request has been placed to correct the system, it is just that it never happens. The classic comment we have heard a number of times is that the operators within HMRC 'cannot see' the dashboard data and they don't believe it to be correct anyway. The 'real' figures appear to be on some other system. Kafka would have loved it!

Thanks (1)
By txcjg
23rd Jan 2017 11:07

We are still having problems with RTI for a 2015/16 employee.
We do the payroll in advance and send to client. The client came back to us 2 month later advising the employee had left two month previously.
We spoke to HMRC who advised us to cease the employee then put them on the payroll again and leave again the next day. This we did.
When we got agent access to the PAYE scheme in 2016 we saw that the ee record had been zeroed and thus additional monies owed to hmrc.. We spoke to HMRC and they advised us they would pass to the processing team who would email us 2 days before phoning back. 10 weeks later HMRC phoned back (no email) and asked for a EYU to correct. We did this but now see the record has still not corrected.

There is obviously a problem in the HMRC RTI system. Surely someone in HMRC could sort this out and make a correction. We have heard of other similar cases and HMRC always put it back on the employer to "correct"

Thanks (0)
By proactivepaul
23rd Jan 2017 11:40

The bigger problem we have is receiving notifications of new scheme reference numbers. Whether to our clients' address or to our address (we've tried both on new applications) we find that 33% of the NEP1 letters never turn up. HMRC are desperately slow in resolving this as we are unable to let them have a signed 64-8 for a PAYE case, with a ref number on it! Can they not just email us new ref numbers the way that the VAT people email us new VAT numbers?

We are still unable to file RTI reports on two cases from Oct and Nov 2016. The older one has now been referred to HMRC complaints.

Kate, have you heard much about this?

Thanks (0)
By badgmalt
23rd Jan 2017 11:54

I've had an instance where staff were moved from company to company under TUPE. HMRC's systems couldn't recognise this over a period of more than a month and started spewing out BR codes as it assumed that they all had two jobs! This was made more complicated because 75% of these staff were Polish-only speakers and of course HMRC won't talk to anyone else than the taxpayer for reasons of confidentiality. Eventually it was resolved but not without a huge amount of confusion.

The next complication was that there was a glitch in the HMRC-approved payroll software as the FPS figures were wrong. The software company were at fault, but they hid behind the HMRC approval by saying "not us, must be you or HMRC" and it even became a challenge to get the software company to tell us how to get hold of the file that was submitted to HMRC so that checks could be made. Eventually, after several months, it was proved to be the software company and it was resolved.

Thanks (0)
Replying to badgmalt:
By raybackler
23rd Jan 2017 12:33

I have experienced this TUPE Problem that affected a number of my clients who transferred to a new limited company because part of their old business was sold. The PAYE tax code system was designed in an era when most employees had one job, there was virtually no tax on benefits in kind and it was before the introduction of the CIS scheme, which was bolted on. I have lost count of the number of notices I have received telling me that PAYE is overpaid, when it is CIS deductions exceeding the PAYE due.

Thanks (0)
By raybackler
23rd Jan 2017 12:37

I had an instance where NI was incorrectly allocated for two months and then corrected at the end of the quarter. HMRC then corrected the quarter in month three. This client was in the CIS scheme and had to pay over this along with the PAYE each month. Needless to say for three months his payments didn't match the combination of his RTI and CIS submissions. When I spoke to someone at HMRC they said it was alright to do all of the corrections in month three, even the though the client had been badgered for non payment in months one and two. Naturally this treatment also affects their interest calculation. I still don't know how they managed to overwrite the RTI submissions.

Thanks (0)
By vodkaqueen
23rd Jan 2017 13:44

Well according to HMRC I am the only person that they have heard of having such issues. Fancy that.

Thanks (0)
Chris M
By mr. mischief
07th Feb 2017 18:39



As a matter of routine I now put these right on to the second letters in all HMRC muck-up situations. I really think that if all accountants and book-keepers did this as standard practice things would improve dramatically.

My book-keeper passed me back a client on payroll lately, where HMRC still had not properly sorted out the 2013-14 NI holiday despite being sent it THREE times and with numerous follow-ups and much time spent by the book-keeper.

So on day 1 I raised it with AAM and got the same old drivel from Benton Park about some form not being properly completed.

Day 5 - sent AAM the data, put COMPLAINT CASE and COMPENSATION CASE on the e-mail and for good measure said i was going straight to Tribunal in the event Benton Park trotted out the same old drivel again.

Day 8 - case closed, 2013-14 NI holiday processed end of story.

Thanks (0)