Accountants slam HMRC’s lack of SA support
“Why are accountants working longer hours in January and HMRC working less?!” asked AccountingWEB member Rammstein1 in the run-up to this year’s SA deadline.
The deadline for completing the 2019/20 self-assessment tax returns is fast approaching. Sunday 31 January will be the red-letter date in most accountant’s diaries, especially given a number of other compliance complications lurking in the undergrowth at the same time.
Added to that a recent Which? survey found that one in four self-employed workers plan to delay this year’s tax bill, leading to more negotiations with HMRC’s time to pay team. One in five survey respondents said they had already deferred July 2020’s tax payment and one in six said they either did not know how they planned to settle their tax bill or had not thought about it yet.
On 31 January last year, the volume of returns filed reached 702,171, the busiest day of the year. Things are even more difficult this year, thanks to the ongoing obstacles introduced by the pandemic.
The HMRC helpline has become a source of frustration for many accountants this SA season: “The whole of HMRC is not fit for purpose at present,” complained Jason Croke. “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.”
The continuing outcry for an extension to the deadline has now moved on to an online petition.
We are all experiencing tough times at the moment - more than anyone accountants can appreciate that. But tax advisers looking for HMRC to step up and respond more effectively have been disappointed: “The inspector on a VAT refund enquiry has simply stopped answering the phone or emails for two months,” commented AccountingWEB member NH.
“Covid shouldn't be an excuse for HMRC to give poor service, and frankly that’s what they are doing at the moment (worse than usual I should say!),” added Crouchy.
AccountingWEB member Tornado spent days chasing up a return that had not been processed only to then receive a late filing penalty, even though the deadline has not been reached yet.
An operator on the HMRC agent helpline eventually agreed to log the penalty as an error, but when Tornado requested they inform the client of the error the operator refused: “They took a rather pompous approach as though this was an outrageous suggestion. She completely lost it, called me rude and ended the call.”
Another AccountingWEB member was recently cut short when trying to make online RTI submissions for a client, which they had been doing since 2003; they were suddenly told that no RTI return had ever been submitted.
“What is going on?” they asked in Any Answers. “I have been into all departments of HMRC basically being [passed] from one dep to another. I think it’s some kind of internal error with HMRC.”
Another member, MC1 had their PAYE codings agreed with HMRC only to have them overridden a few days later. In response other members reported similar experiences.
“Is there anything we can do to get HMRC to address their error?” MC1 asked. “I just find it absolutely incredible that HMRC can override codings we agreed with them a couple of days beforehand.”
In lionofludesch’s view, that’s the nature of dealing with HMRC: “You have to keep your eye on them all the time, like toddlers.”
While HMRC introduced a new reasonable excuse option for taxpayers who file late due to pandemic-related issues, leading tax accountants warned the public not to take this option for granted.
“It will take time to appeal,” commented Blick Rothenberg CEO Nimesh Shah, “and it is never guaranteed that HMRC will accept the appeal, despite their apparent show of sympathy.”
Given that HMRC will also be inundated with appeals, it could take several months to process.
“The guidelines remain far too vague on what exactly counts as a coronavirus-related excuse,” commented Jamie Morrison, head of private client at HW Fisher. “We would advise anyone who needs to submit a tax return to continue to take the January deadline seriously.”
Accountants have already encountered hurdles in Covid appeals, including AccountingWEB member legerman, who got HMRC to agree to withdraw a notice to file for one of their clients in the 2019/20 tax year. On checking their SA account, however, the adviser spotted a £100 late filing penalty, once again weeks ahead of the 31 January deadline: “HMRC must be desperate for cash,” they commented.
The self assessment deadline this year falls on a Sunday, which hasn’t happened since 2016. In response to representations from professional bodies, HMRC chief executive Jim Harra confirmed in a letter on Monday that HMRC helplines will be available from 8am to 6pm on Saturday 30 January and 9am to 6pm Sunday 31 January.
Our latest Any Answers Live webinar on self assessment season delved more deeply into these issues. And feel free to share your SA war stories with the wider community in Any Answers.
If you’re in need of some mood music to get you through the second half of January, check out our Songs for self assessment season Spotify playlist that’s packed full of soundtrack suggestions from AccountingWEB members.