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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.

20th Jan 2021
Community Assistant AccountingWEB
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Waiting on the phone
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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.

HMRC headaches

Complaints about HMRC’s poor support line service have followed on the heels of HMRC not processing returns, even if they are showing as received. 

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.”

Tax Talks episode

Penalty appeals

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.

Replies (50)

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By memyself-eye
21st Jan 2021 16:07

Only 2 months 10 days 7 hours and forty five seconds to go - then I'm done with all this.

Bliss.

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Replying to memyself-eye:
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By steve 12321
22nd Jan 2021 09:46

How come?

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Replying to steve 12321:
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By Taxbod
22nd Jan 2021 17:03

End of the world possibly or maybe the responder is leaving his or her job.

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By pauld
21st Jan 2021 16:52

Not much of an 'outcry' with only 2,000 signatures on the petition, which I think is below 1% of the qualified accountants in the UK.

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Replying to pauld:
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By johnjenkins
22nd Jan 2021 09:38

That's because most of us know it's a waste of time petitioning HMRC. They will only move when things come down on them, which this year it will. I see a demise or complete overhaul of HMRC next year.

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Replying to pauld:
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By North East Accountant
22nd Jan 2021 10:40

Working 70/80 hours weeks doesn't leave much time to fill in petitions.

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By 0098087
22nd Jan 2021 09:36

I find it's the usual suspects leaving it to the last minute and using the pandemic as an excuse when i know it's nonsense

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By Trethi Teg
22nd Jan 2021 09:41

Its simple.

HMRC are "public servants" - paid whether they work or not. Job security through pandemics and "work" from home at no better than 50% efficiency because HMRC systems do not allow. If they fail, so what, they maniplulate the statistics on performance and then lie through their teeth when questioned by Parliament. Then when finished the bosses there pick up Knighthoods and honours.

Accountants are "private sector". They help thier clients create the wealth that pays for the "public servants". They do not have trade unions. They do not assist HM Governmentto screw every last penny out of the taxpayers. Thier governing bodies simply punish their members and do nothing to help them. The senior members of the governing bodies also wnat knighthhods and honours.

I think that's enough to answer the question but I could go on for hours if I didnt have a pile of tax returns to file - after I have done all the furlough claims.

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Replying to Trethi Teg:
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By 4b4
22nd Jan 2021 10:55

Every word true - you just forgot to mention that successive Governments hate us and have spent the last ten years undermining our industry!

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Replying to 4b4:
By 0098087
22nd Jan 2021 11:05

You say the last 10 years. I thought the Tories would be more supportive, though having lived through more Tory governments that Labour I probably couldn't disagree and this one, possible the worst since the war.

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By Self-Employed and Happy
22nd Jan 2021 09:55

HMRC (in general) isn't really fit for purpose, they seem to be trying to move away from agents to dealing directly with the public, they see it as cutting out the middle man.

They'll soon find those middlemen and women actually save HMRC huge amounts of time.

Investment is needed in training staff but also creating definitive lines of inquiry for dealing with certain problems, also getting one department to speak to another is utterly shocking, CIS refunds being allocated to another tax seems like a trauma or death in the family.

If HMRC actually listened to the people that have to communicate with them almost everyday then they could build a far better system, I mean imagine moving to MTD and then removing the ability of agents to be able to see if clients payments have been allocated correctly on VAT, no we can't have that!

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Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
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By sammerchant
22nd Jan 2021 10:48

I wonder if Sir James Harra reads the gripes here or even has an inkling of them.

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Replying to sammerchant:
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By codling
22nd Jan 2021 11:25

Clearly he does not and does not want to. I emailed him Rebecca Cave's article and the responses on poor HMRC services. It came back saying that his email address refused to accept my email!
How nice!

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Replying to codling:
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By sammerchant
22nd Jan 2021 11:51

If I were you, I'd let my MP know. A question in the House might work wonders.

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By Carolynne
22nd Jan 2021 10:12

I plan with all my clients to make sure we have all the information necessary to hit the deadline each year.

I email, phone and nag. I just don't understand this outcry to ask for an extension, everyone has had 9 months to prepare for these returns?

I am not a big practice with lots on hands of deck either and like everyone else, have been dealing with the minefield and increased pressure of all those furlough claims at the same time as normal work throughout the year.

If an accountant waits until January to obtain a clients P60 or income details or books, then they have failed to plan in my opinion.

(The only exception for me would be unless of course a new client turns up in the last few weeks of January and asks for a tax return to be submitted without any information on hand).

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Replying to Carolynne:
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By djtax
22nd Jan 2021 11:14

And yet HMRC stated that as at the start of January this year only 55% of some 12 million Returns had been filed so over 5 million still to submit in January - apparently a normal statistic consistent with previous years (and I note from the above article that last year over 700,000 were submitted on 31 Jan itself). So what's going wrong and what is the solution to getting them all in sooner?

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Replying to Carolynne:
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By Jimess
22nd Jan 2021 11:17

I disagree with your contention on so many levels. We have planned our work every step of the way in this last year, only to have to rip up those plans and start again every time a new measure is announced or another lockdown is enforced. As time went on the number of businesses needing help increased with every lockdown measure imposed. We could not plan for that and neither could our clients. I would have loved to have had a crystal ball a year ago to predict how much work we had coming in and when, but I am an accountant not a seer. Please do not preach to those who have worked their socks off and more, have communicated with their clients every step of the way and are still facing mountains of work because of the self assessment deadline bottleneck. The self assessment deadline puts us, and I would imagine lots of other accountants with similar workloads, in a very difficult situation this year - do we break off SA work to work the furlough claims for struggling businesses - and create even more work for ourselves and our clients next month with the rash of penalty appeals, and perhaps some clients may lose out on the next run of SEISS claims or do we leave furlough claims until after all SA work is finished and cause some clients (and perhaps their employees) further financial distress until the furlough claims can be processed. We are working a really tight balancing act at the moment, trying to help as many clients as we can, but we are only human and can only do so much - HMRC are expecting far too much.

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Replying to Jimess:
Tornado
By Tornado
22nd Jan 2021 11:47

"Please do not preach to those who have worked their socks off and more"

It does depend on what type of Practice you are and your client mix, but I can say that during the first 8 weeks of initial lockdown, we worked 7 days a week trying to interpret vague new emergency measures and dealing with very distraught clients, some very worried indeed and in tears at the other end of the phone.

The chances of getting paid for even a fraction of this additional work is negligible and the other irony here is that I could not furlough staff as we were doing this additional work and I get no Self-Employment grant from the Government as apparently I earn too much.

We have all also spent a long time explaining to clients how some new measures will work only to find that the very next day the Government have changed the rules again.

I think many of us have probably worked more than our socks off (I mean our shirts of course!).

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Replying to Tornado:
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By sammerchant
23rd Jan 2021 11:58

Just a thought: what if we ALL wrote to our MPs pointing this out? And those accountants dealing with the Returns for MPs themselves could also have a personal word.

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Replying to Tornado:
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By sammerchant
11th Feb 2021 13:44

Duplicate post.

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Replying to Carolynne:
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By johnjenkins
22nd Jan 2021 13:34

Carolynne, it doesn't matter if a tax return is submitted 6th April or 31st Jan it is 10 months to get 12 months work in. The deadline should be 31st March regardless of covid. You have 12 months from year end to submit Limited Company Accounts to HMRC, even Companies House has extended submission to 12 months after year end. Most of us don't have the time to constantly chase clients and also practices offer different services to different clients. This is a one off, Carolynne so a little help from HMRC wouldn't come amiss, especially considering we do most of their work.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
By birdman
22nd Jan 2021 23:08

Spot on, John - an efficient small practice works at close to capacity, so if the extra furlough claim work, hand-holding etc increases the workload by 25%, something has to give.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By Jimess
23rd Jan 2021 13:14

Thankyou! Absolutely spot on.

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By Ajtms
22nd Jan 2021 10:13

Back in October I gave up on telephoning HMRC on their ADL as I was no longer prepared to spend between 45 & 60 minutes in a queue. I therefore wrote to them instead on a variety of issues on many different cases and continue to do so. I have not as yet received any replies! (I have naturally tried telephoning from time to time just to see if HMRC had improved things, but I had to give up trying). HMRC always used to encourage us to call as it was quicker for them and quicker for us, but now I don't know how they are going to cope with all of our correspondence by letter that they have forced us to send by not providing a proper telephone service. If they fail to reply within 3 months then I make a complaint in writing.

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Replying to Ajtms:
Tornado
By Tornado
22nd Jan 2021 10:39

Writing to HMRC is indeed a complete waste of time. I am still waiting replies or even acknowledgements to a letter written in December 2019 and follow up letters (asking about the first one) in January 2020 and February 2020.

I did phone in January 2020 to try and see if they had even got the first letter and was told that they had, but it was in the wrong queue and the advisor would put it in the right queue. I am guessing that the right queue to HMRC was the one heading for the bin as I have still heard absolutely nothing related to these three letters.

I am guessing a bit here, but I believe all correspondence to HMRC is scanned and then put into a central electronic pool for anyone available anywhere in the Country to deal with.

It is this removal of the responsibility of specific individuals or teams to deal with a matter which is the problem. Give people responsibility and they will have more incentive to deal with a matter properly, take responsibility away from people and they do not care if something get done or not. Why should they, there is always someone else to do it you don't, isn't there.

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Replying to Ajtms:
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By sammerchant
22nd Jan 2021 10:46

Having failed to get a reply to a letter sent in March 2020, I sent a complaint in November. I had a reply a month later, early December 2020, acknowledging receipt of the complaint and saying that it would be dealt with. No further news so far on either the original letter or the complaint. I have now involved the client's MP but she has had no joy either.

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By Greenslades
22nd Jan 2021 10:22

I see my old friend Jason Croke is also suffering VAT issues with HMRC like me.

MTD for VAT re agents is a complete disaster structurally on how it operates. As a minimum the crew at HMRC should not be allowed loose on MTD for other taxes until this is working properly.
Probably some of the higher level crew should be sacked for simple incompetence.

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Replying to Greenslades:
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By sammerchant
22nd Jan 2021 10:41

Completely agree. IT and HMRC are oil and water!

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By mydoghasfleas
22nd Jan 2021 10:28

Trust return submitted online 14 November 2020. Acknowledged as received 14 November. Still not showing on SA records for agents. Clearly the steam drive in HMRC's IT is waiting for fresh coal.

Tried ringing HMRC time to pay line where I am a trustee for a covid affected trust (commercial property rent). I had to ring because HMRC refused to talk to another member of staff. Dialled at 14:01, held on for 1 hour 59 minutes and 21 seconds, becoming suicidal at that bloody guitar piece, then at 16:00 the line went dead. Letter to MP straight after that as I wanted a record that I had tried to make an arrangement to pay. How can you have a record of conversation when the other party just leaves you dangling for 2 hours. I was going to tell HMRC that I needed to have my beard trimmed and would put the cost in as trust management expenses on the basis I had grown it whilst holding on!

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Replying to mydoghasfleas:
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By Self-Employed and Happy
22nd Jan 2021 10:37

Oh you've just touched on ANOTHER thing that's started to happen.

HMRC sometimes will only speak with the NAME on the Agent Portal, so if it says XYZ Ltd and the contact is Mr Joe Bloggs I've had (especially on VAT) MANY times recently HMRC hang up on me, even though I am a joint owner of the business and the Portal is in the Limited Company name!!!!!

I asked the agent...so what happens when an employee from a large accountancy firm calls you, do you expect a named partner to deal with such trivial matters?

If that's how HMRC want to play it then HMRC should allow agents to add a list of employees that call HMRC and give each employee a password to say over the phone, you can remove employees when they leave.

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Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
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By Vallery Lee
22nd Jan 2021 11:02

Mydoghasfleas: that is a good and very sensible idea. Therefore it will be ignored by HMRC

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Replying to Vallery Lee:
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By Vallery Lee
22nd Jan 2021 11:03

A pity I replied to the wrong person - can I blame Covid? everyone else does.

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Replying to Vallery Lee:
By 0098087
22nd Jan 2021 11:14

Why not, government blaming covid for food shortages in N Ireland when we all know it's Brexit

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By sammerchant
22nd Jan 2021 10:39

“They took a rather pompous approach as though this was an outrageous suggestion. She completely lost it, called me rude and ended the call.” As all calls are recorded, the caller would have been within his/her rights to ask for a transcript and then filed a formal complaint if necessary.

I did just that about 4 years ago and received a transcript which had been heavily redacted. I complained to the ICO and HMRC quickly apologised. They accepted the point I was making, but I still did not get sight of the unredacted transcript.

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By anniem
22nd Jan 2021 11:57

HMRC ARE NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE!!!!

I just write to them now as I'm no longer prepared to spend hours on the phone listening to endless messages and being passed from pillar to post. Then when you do get through to someone they promise something will happen but say it will take 6 weeks, and even then it still doesn't happen and their records are still incorrect.

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By Mr J Andrews
22nd Jan 2021 12:24

To answer the opening question : Pride , Dedication and Conscientiousness.
As opposed to : Apathy , Low Morale and Leaderless

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Julie Stacey
By Pingsquitch
22nd Jan 2021 13:04

I would value any advice as I have drawn a blank with HMRC! A client received a refund last year, on checking I found they had not allowed for his Self-Employed income, this year they have decided he is eligible for another refund but the Tax Calculation bears no resemblance to the figures I submitted (pension incorrect, interest not received, no self-employed income). I tried ringing but after hanging on for 45 minutes I gave up. What should I do?

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Replying to Pingsquitch:
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By sammerchant
22nd Jan 2021 13:36

I had the same problem with a client who received a refund, but trusted my calculations to call me immediately and not spend the money. I discovered that HMRC had TWO different data bases which did not liaise! I explained this to the client, send HMRC my calculations, they raised a demand for the overpayment by issuing a correction to the correction (!!), and were repaid the money.

Advise your client that he/she is not entitled to the money and should earmark it for repayment to HMRC else it is theft. I would suggest a letter with full details and then let them raise the assessment. Meanwhile tell your client to park the money in Premium Bonds - you never know!

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Replying to sammerchant:
Julie Stacey
By Pingsquitch
03rd Feb 2021 11:57

I have taken on board your opinion and decided to write to HMRC outlining my concerns - may seem a simple task but I cannot find an address either on their correspondence or the website! Does anybody know how I can contact them?
(Maybe they don't actually exist - just a figment of our imaginations! It would explain why nobody gets replies from them!)

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Replying to Pingsquitch:
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By johnjenkins
03rd Feb 2021 12:04

"Maybe HMRC don't actually exist". A wonderful comment. Many a true word.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
Julie Stacey
By Pingsquitch
10th Feb 2021 12:37

I have now received another communication from HMRC (still no address). Apparently they now agree with my calculations and are demanding the payment even though my client has already paid! Now just have to sort out last year!

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Replying to Pingsquitch:
Kitten
By Hazel Accounts
22nd Jan 2021 14:15

How can they not allow for his self-employed income? If he is self-employed presumably you are filing a SATR? If he's also on the other "P800" system and gets a refund then this should be put on the SATR in the section for tax already refunded by HMRC. Had a couple of these - the 2 systems aren't linked properly, but I've found they usually do sort themselves out when you file the SATR.

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Replying to Hazel Accounts:
Julie Stacey
By Pingsquitch
29th Jan 2021 23:35

I have acted for this client for several years and always submitted SATR, it is just the last couple of years that this problem has arisen. My client has now retired and I also put this on the return before submitting. I will try writing, if they don't reply, at least I will have documentary evidence of my enquiry!

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Tornado
By Tornado
22nd Jan 2021 13:56

THE MAIN PROBLEM IS that invariably Agents are only having to contact HMRC because they and their world beating digital tax system have made errors and we are the ones that have to tell them otherwise the errors may never be corrected.

No system errors = no need to contact HMRC

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By shaka198
22nd Jan 2021 14:09

I had to hold on for 40 minutes to speak to someone on the Agent's help line yesterday, but am not blaming the adviser, he was very good when I finally got through, fortunately I was able to carry on with other work whilst waiting, but what a dreadful service for something claimed to be a preferential service.

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By shaka198
22nd Jan 2021 14:18

I had cause to call adviser helpline on another matter, another c 40 minute wait. This was to do with correcting a client DOB identity error, which should have been a simple matter. No such luck, I was told to write in with two forms of certified ID and advised it would take c 9 weeks to receive an actioned reply on such a simple matter. I despair at such appalling bad service. As far as I am aware HMRC have the same number of staff, albeit working from home, so why the COVID excuses and restricted hours. I was told the service was closed on Saturdays despite being advertised as part of their normal service week. In the meantime the client cannot submit a 30 day CGT return following sale of a property as HMRC system will not recognise him despite me doing his SAE for the past 10 years!

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By Refs1
22nd Jan 2021 18:24

Can’t remember when I last telephone HMRC until yesterday and today. Only a 35 minute wait yesterday and the adviser was great. Agents line as well. Today was different. Got hung up on when asked to deal with a second client and the second call the adviser was average in terms of knowledge. All I wanted was two UTRs, that we wrote about 2 months ago. Ended up registering a complaint apparently a team leader is to go call me in two days! Interesting to see how it goes.

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By norstar
25th Jan 2021 15:00

I've just received the HMRC email saying they've waived penalties. I'd absolutely disgusted with their behaviour and it's potentially the last straw.

We have flogged our guts out to get our clients to file on time. We've worked Saturdays, evenings, mornings. Now with four and a half working days to go, they agree to do what they said they had no plans to do as recently as December.

Unprofessional, unsupportive, unacceptable. I will be writing to Jim Harra to express this.

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By ruth.julian
25th Jan 2021 16:12

This is my take on the current situation. Since the creation of HMRC, the number of employees has almost halved. Most of those leaving were trained and experienced staff, replaced by an increasing reliance on call centres staffed by young and inexperienced agents working to crib sheets and no effective back office support. Those experienced staff who remained were often moved to taxes quite alien to them, as the mantra was to move the work not the staff. This was compounded by new IT systems being outsourced to companies with no practical experience in the work of government, let alone tax collection. The loss of Child Benefit data compounded the stagnation in development of modern communication methods, coupled with centralisation of receipt and despatch of mail for a disparate collection of taxes. "Customers" often pay more than one tax or duty, each of which require different registration and unique tax references which may or may not be correctly recorded on correspondence. Those that have headed HMRC include few who have any background in taxation, business and accountancy practice. And I am sure my AW colleagues could add more to this tale of woe.

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Replying to ruth.julian:
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By johnjenkins
26th Jan 2021 09:28

Not fit for purpose springs to mind.

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