Staff Writer AccountingWEB
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HMRC doubles downtime on MTD for VAT system

HMRC blamed an issue “impacting the ability of some MTD for VAT customers to submit a return” as the reason why some agents couldn’t file or access agent services for four days. 

24th Mar 2021
Staff Writer AccountingWEB
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Last week, HMRC announced it would be down for the weekend via its service availability and issues page from Saturday 13 March until 5pm on Monday.

But on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, users were still reporting the agent services account was still down. “Still unavailable at 9am on Wednesday 17th,” said taxTeddy. “They have really done it this time.”

HMRC alerted AccountingWEB that an issue was making the MTD for VAT page unavailable, and that specific component has been identified and was being fixed:

“An issue has been identified which is impacting the ability of some MTD for VAT customers to submit a return. In order to enable a fix to be delivered, the ‘Return Submission’ element of MTD for VAT requires shuttering. As a result, it is currently not possible for customers or agents to submit a VAT return through the MTD service.

“All other elements of the VAT service (such as sign-up and payment) remain open. There is no interruption to applications for the VAT deferral New Payment Scheme. The MTD for ITSA service is unaffected. We are working to resolve this issue as soon as possible and expect the full service to return on the morning of Thursday 18th March. If this situation changes, we will notify you immediately.”

By 4pm on Wednesday, users were reporting that the service was back up and running.

What went wrong during work on the MTD for VAT servers?

According to HMRC, during its scheduled maintenance “to deliver a number of iterative enhancements to the functionality of the Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT service”, an issue was identified that impacted the ability of MTD for VAT customers to submit a return.

While HMRC investigated the issue and delivered a fix, the ‘Return Submission’ element of MTD for VAT was temporarily shuttered in order to limit the impact on customers. “All other elements of the MTD service were unaffected and remained open to customers,” an HMRC spokesperson told AccountingWEB.

HMRC maintains that if the return submission service had not been temporarily closed, a minority of customers would have received incorrect error messages on submission of their returns, when in fact their returns had been received and processed successfully. This could have prompted customers affected to take further action to check the status of their returns with HMRC.

The vast majority of the “iterative enhancements” to MTD for VAT services were made to the backend of the system and will not be visible to the user.

The spokesperson confirmed that all customer data remained safe and secure throughout and all other elements of the VAT service (such as sign-up and payment) remained open.

There was no interruption to applications for the VAT deferral New Payment Scheme and MTD for Income Tax service was unaffected, they added.

“While we are sorry for the inconvenience for customers who wanted to file during the couple of days the service was unexpectedly shuttered, temporary shuttering of a service is an ordinary contingency action if a release of new functionality causes a problem that wasn’t picked up during testing,” said the spokesperson. 

“It is now fully resolved, and all affected customers have plenty of time to file before their deadline on 7 April. HMRC conducts an after action review after each release and will reflect any lessons learned in future deliveries. Future system enhancements should otherwise continue as planned.”

MTD for ITSA pilot testing phase

When asked if new elements will be added to enable the public launch of the MTD for ITSA pilot testing phase, HMRC  reiterated that the MTD for ITSA pilot has been running in public beta (with some customer eligibility restrictions) since 2018. 

It plans to deliver further enhancements to the MTD for ITSA service in the coming months, which will expand the volume of businesses eligible to join the pilot and test the service two years out from mandation.

According to HMRC, there are no planned changes to upcoming MTD delivery schedules as a result of this minor isolated incident.

HMRC postpones CT online service downtime

Two days after the extended downtime for MTD VAT submissions, HMRC announced planned downtimes for the CT online service, which it then cancelled the following day.

First alerted to AccountingWEB by user Hugo Fair, HMRC first announced “Planned downtime from 5pm on Friday 19 March 2021 to 9am on Monday 22 March 2021” for its CT online service. 

It was replaced the following day with “The planned downtime from 5pm on Friday 19 March 2021 to 9am on Monday 22 March 2021 has been cancelled”.

“Assuming that the initial maintenance plan that would've taken over two days wasn't unnecessary in the first place, this suggests that whatever's going in the back-office systems at HMRC is not good news...either for HMRC or for those of us trying to comply with deadlines,” commented Hugo Fair.

To follow future notifications from HMRC, click the blue button at the top of its API platform status page.

Replies (10)

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By Paul Crowley
24th Mar 2021 17:38

Do we really believe HMRC can cope with MTD
Two recent threads indicate that they cannot even cope with sending post to the person named on the notification.
Even my most digitally unable clients cope with sending post better than HMRC

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
By Charlie Carne
25th Mar 2021 11:14

Whilst I have no wish to defend HMRC from attacks on their competence, there is a world of difference in ensuring that 5 or 10 letters a day get posted to the correct address compared to issuing many tens of thousands of letters per day via automated envelope filling machinery (especially when valid environmental concerns encourage multiple letters to be posted in a single envelope).

As I have commented elsewhere today on another AWEB thread, HMRC need to allow taxpayers and their agents to opt into electronic receipt (via HMC's secure portals that already exist - PTA and ASA) and stop the needless waste of paper and postage.

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By Duggimon
25th Mar 2021 10:06

They always say "some" as though it was only a little blip - it was down for everyone for three working days, that's not a minor outage.

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By jamiea4f
25th Mar 2021 10:16

Ah so basically it’s yet another bright idea that’s been foisted on accountants without actually working properly. That’s never happened before... ;)

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By Ammie
25th Mar 2021 10:31

BS

No consequences or care, that just applies to taxpayers.

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By tedbuck
25th Mar 2021 10:39

Well I'm glad to hear that HMRC is in control of the situation so we can look forward to a smooth move into MTD for everything else. It sounds as though it will be as smooth as silk.

Having just read that the Govt and the internet people are trying to find a way to snoop on everybody's online activities it shouldn't be long until we can all go home and let them do the work for us. No wonder they are promoting the cashless society.

One does wonder what will happen when they get hacked and someone throws a spanner into their software. The whole system will collapse and what happens then?

As HMRC are somewhat dysfunctional anyway, the main reason in my view why they are trying to get computers to do the work, if it does really fall apart there won't be a four day hole but an absolute catastrophe with no backup system in place.

But never mind - it's all going to be digital so it will be OK won't it? They obviously haven't heard of GIGO.

Glad I am retiring before all this silk covered stuff hits the fan! Hallelujah!

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By GARETHVALE
25th Mar 2021 10:45

Anyone else still having issues I have set up two newly registered businesses MTD is working fine for the one but is still showing as HMRC are setting up MTD which may take 72 hours, registered them for MTD last Friday?

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By Ebutler
25th Mar 2021 12:10

What annoyed me was that the service availability link showed no problem. I therefore assumed the problem was at my end. After 3 hours of following circular links, disconnecting, re authorising and getting nowhere, I gave up. 3 days later, it worked. If I had known that there was a problem I could have done something else.

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Morph
By kevinringer
25th Mar 2021 13:50

"...the public launch of the MTD for ITSA pilot testing..."

But the ITSA pilot started 4 years ago, see https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/tech/practice-software/mtd-pilot-offers-.... So what's been going on for the last 4 years? How many taxpayers have been participating in the pilot? I hear the number is 2 dozen. Not great results after 4 years toil especially when HMRC expected 400,000.

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By Hugo Fair
25th Mar 2021 19:39

Why can't HMRC communicate in clear English (other than it would lay bare what they're trying to hide)?

“An issue has been identified which is impacting the ability of some MTD for VAT customers to submit a return. In order to enable a fix to be delivered, the ‘Return Submission’ element of MTD for VAT requires shuttering. As a result, it is currently not possible for customers or agents to submit a VAT return through the MTD service."
OR ... "The system for submitting MTD for VAT is broken, so we've switched it off for repairs."

“We are working to resolve this issue as soon as possible and expect the full service to return on the morning of Thursday 18th March. If this situation changes, we will notify you immediately.”
OR ... "We hope to switch it back on by am 18th March, but will let you know if it's mended sooner."

Oh yes, and they didn't let us know ... so more time was wasted at countless Agent businesses.

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