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HMRC consults on paperless self assessment

9th Dec 2013
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HMRC is exploring ways of reaching self assessment customers via email and even social media as part of a new electronic communications service.

The Revenue recently published a consultation document on reducing the paper communications it sends out and raising the prospect of a completely paperless upgrade to its existing self assessment service.

According to HMRC the vast majority of returns are filed online, but just 25% of taxpayers have online-only communications and interactions with HMRC.

The Revenue is therefore consulting on changes to the Income and Corporation Tax regulations 2003 to allow it to deliver statutory notices to customers via an opt-in electronic communications service - via email or SMS text from the trial date of April 2014.

A spokesperson said that the Revenue already uses social media to communicate people's tax  requirements, for example through Twitter Q&As, and YouTube 'how-to' videos.

"As set out in our 2012 Digital Strategy, HMRC is also looking at how social media can be used to support our service to customers," he said.

"This work is at an early stage but might include, for example, answering simple queries or providing general messages such as reminders."

The move is part of HMRC’s digital strategy, published in December last year.  

It is proposing an opt-in service for both clients and agents, where they can both chose whether to receive communication from HMRC via electronic or paper means.

If users do opt in, the Revenue will message the user, telling them that information has been delivered to a secure mailbox. One of the options it's considering is how it can use social media as part of the new service.

Information HMRC is proposing to send electronically only includes reminders, statements and statutory notices, including:

  • Penalty notices

  • Reminders to pay tax due

  • Reminders to file a return

  • Notice of opening an enquiry into a return

  • Notice of the determination of tax by HMRC where no return has been delivered

The Revenue said it will take appropriate security measures to verify contact details with the customer.

To put this into context with this proposal the individual would be guided to an online portal where they would be able to access a message from HMRC.

When asked if the upcoming EU data protection rules and new cyber security framework would have an impact on this, a spokesperson said that HMRC had "robust processes in place" to protect the personal data it holds. 

"This includes strong confidentiality provisions and cyber security protection. When the reforms are adopted HMRC will be required – like all organisations caught by the new provisions – to implement data protection policies that comply with the new laws." 

It also discussed in the consultation what the move would mean for agents.

HMRC said it would be an extension of the functionality of the current agents’ online service, whereby it would enable them to use third party software to view communications HMRC has sent to clients online.

Agents would also be able to make a separate, independent choice on whether they want to opt in or out of electronic communications to their client, but wouldn’t be able to make that choice on behalf of the client.

But, they are considering suggestions on how to capture the consent of a client, as it acknowledges that most clients allow their agent to access the online service on their behalf.

Replies (5)

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By User deleted
09th Dec 2013 13:43

Can we get the basics right first please

Whilst I approve the concept of HMRC improving its ability to both contact and be contacted by both taxpayers and agents it is surely more important that they get their basic computer systems and the information they contain functioning cohesively first.  I am informed by someone who should know that presently the only way HMRC can tell which agent (if any) has filed a return form for a particular client is by scrolling through the pages of said return until they come to the page and box with the agent details.  They have apparently no way of interrogating their systems to establish all the clients dealt with by any particular agent, notwithstanding the fact that each firm acting has individual codes for each area of activity in which it acts.  However, HMRC are talking about enabling agents to do much more to make the service run efficiently yet without being able to monitor the performance level of any particular agent - how crazy is that!!!  The prospect of HMRC being able to shower emails and text messages all over the place makes me shudder.

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By chatman
09th Dec 2013 16:37

"online-only communications and interactions with HMRC"

"just 25% of taxpayers have online-only communications and interactions with HMRC."

Could this be related to the fact that HMRC refuses to allow disclose staff email addresses to taxpayers or agents?

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By PK Group
09th Dec 2013 16:48

Can be helpful

The 'how to' videos and general important information are great things for HMRC to spread over their social networks.

In the wake of all the privacy scandals of late, these "appropriate security measures" and "robust processes" will need to be of top quality in order to avoid any potential hacking issues. It will be interesting to see how HMRC progress with their social media initiatives.

PK Group

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
09th Dec 2013 17:22


You can picture it now, HMRC computer emailing a dead email address for 3 years, then a fines mounting, all emailed followed by a determination notice none of which you can do anything about. 

First the tax payer knows about it is when the debt collectors knock on the door. Or will they be standing at the door sending a text?

The trouble with email is its fickle and HMRC simply don't have the resources to monitor the "bounces" or work out which ones are live addresses. Its bad enough trying to keep our client database of 250 odd addresses upto date.  By all means use it for reminders and routine paperwork, but they cant be serious about things like penalties and tax investigations, surely?

Anyhow the pishing email people who seem to be increasingly sophisticated will be delighted if HMRC are actually sending emails to people, all the easier to out-fox the unwary.  Currently we just tell clients "HMRC do not send emails". 


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By dgilmour51
27th Dec 2013 18:19

HMRC mails on the electric

sadly there is no way one could trust in this. Paper, generated by HMRC, is the least irrefutable proof. Neither is non-repudiation, proof-of-sending/delivery etc. decently bottomed out in the electric world.
And as HMRC policy on email addresses means one would not be communication with a 'person' but a dustbin called something like '[email protected]'.

As utterly appalling as HMRC's track record on warehouses full of unopened post may be, at least one can potentially prove it's actually there.

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