A new version of the Business Tax Account is about to be launched, but it won’t cure all the problems with RTI data, as Kate Upcraft explains.
HMRC will be rolling out a new version of the Business Tax Account (BTA) between 14 August and 11 September. This roll out process will be random, so employers might see the new version at the start of this period or right at the end. It’s worth stressing that there are no announced plans for a roll out of a new version of the BTA for agents who are in the trial that allows them to see their clients’ business tax accounts.
Business Tax Accounts have been discredited over the last four years, in part because of an error (now admitted by HMRC) that means HMRC staff see PAYE scheme figures that are different to those seen by the end user. This mismatch apparently occurs during batch processing, such that there is a discrepancy between what the user is shown from the Enterprise Tax Management Platform (ETMP) and the ETMP view in the centre.
To my knowledge, this is the first time the source of this problem has been acknowledged by HMRC since RTI was deployed. It may explain why the HMRC employer helpline team tend to tell callers worried about discrepancies between the submitted and displayed figures on the BTA to “ignore the BTA”.
In spite of these legacy issues, HMRC is requesting feedback on the new version of the BTA. Will employers bother looking at the BTA if they have had a bad experience in the past?
The mismatched payment figures created by the batch processing may well have masked the true scale of the RTI data corruption by HMRC systems. It follows that the fixing of data corruption problems haven’t been given the attention and priority they deserve.
Whilst it may well be true that HMRC has eliminated some of the causes of duplicate employee records in the last four years, these duplication problems still occur on an alarming scale for activities that are a normal part of business such as:
- TUPE transfers;
- moving to a new payroll outsource provider; and
- implementing new payroll software.
It is still commonplace for a whole PAYE scheme, consisting of many thousands of employees, to be duplicated in such scenarios. Tax agents are told that one of the main culprits for this continuing duplication problem is the misinterpretation by HMRC systems of employee numbers (or payroll IDs as they refer to them).
What will taxpayers see?
When the taxpayer logs on to their BTA they will see a black and white front screen in Gov.uk style. When the taxpayer clicks on “view breakdown” they will no longer link to the old green “liabilities and payments viewer” but a new Gov.uk breakdown screen.
Now that an application programme interface (API) is grabbing the data directly from the core RTI database, rather than taking the results of a batch process, some of the corruption problems should disappear.
Sadly, the RTI data is still only being pulled into the BTA twice monthly. The first pass of RTI data to the BTA will show around the 10th of the month, after the tax month end, not as is currently on the 12th of the month. The next pass through of RTI data will be on the 22nd of each month when any EPS claims are netted off the amount due, and the payments made by the employer are displayed.
Narrow down the problems
Cutting out the batch process will mean the batch-induced errors are eliminated as “errors” from the reported RTI data. Also, HMRC should be able to see the same data as displayed to the employer.
However, it will be even more important to ensure that clients know that they should check their BTA twice monthly, as unless your firm is in the tax agents’ trial, you can’t do that for them.
Once the new version of the BTA is running, if there is a discrepancy compared to what the employer has submitted/paid on either the “amount due” or in the “amount paid”, it really is likely to be a data problem. In that case, the employer should lodge a disputed charge with the HMRC employer helpline. Make sure you don’t get fobbed off by the helpline staff saying there is nothing to worry about, as the new version of the BTA should have eliminated that possibility.
The known unknowns
We still don't have answers to the following questions:
- Will the apprenticeship levy be shown on the breakdown screen of the BTA for the first time, or just as a total on the front screen?
- Will the “amounts paid” start to resemble the what the employer has actually paid over to HMRC as PAYE for that month, i.e. one payment, showing the correct payment method, allocated on the right date to the appropriate month?
- When will the agent services version of the BTA get the same makeover?