ATT Technical Officer The Association of Taxation Technicians
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HMRC launches upgraded Agent Forum

The Revenue has updated the way registered tax agents can flag issues to it and each other, but does it solve some of the problems that dogged its previous incarnation? Helen Thornley investigates.

11th Oct 2019
ATT Technical Officer The Association of Taxation Technicians
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The Agent Forum is the main portal through which tax agents can raise general queries about issues they have with the HMRC systems or processes, and they can answer queries posed by other forum members.

The old version of the Agent Forum had been operating for about two years, but it had significant drawbacks in terms of ease of operation.

On 7 October 2019, HMRC launched the updated version of the Agent Forum, hosted on a different platform with extra features and an improved search facility.

How does it work?

By posting queries on the forum, tax agents can flag up concerns to HMRC, search to see whether the issues they are experiencing are also being faced by others, contribute their experiences as evidence and see what is being done about them.

The forum is divided into various topic areas and issues should obviously be raised under the relevant heading. Each new topic or ‘thread’ is given its own unique reference number and threads are organised by date order with the latest posting at the top.

Adding your own comments or experiences to a thread is straightforward: simply post a reply at the bottom. Users of the old forum should be aware that it is no longer possible to amend posts once they have been submitted, so it’s worth proofreading your replies before committing to posting.

One of the benefits of the new forum is that when a reply is made to one of your posts, you should receive an email alert.

If you want to keep track of a specific thread which you haven’t commented on but want to see what responses are made by HMRC and other users, then it is possible to ‘subscribe’ to the thread. A list of subscribed threads is available under the user’s ‘account’ settings.

Who monitors the forum?

HMRC’s forum team monitor forum postings and will seek answers from elsewhere within HMRC or ask for further information or supporting evidence. HMRC will also post details about service issues or other updates to the forum – sometimes before they appear elsewhere on GOV.UK.

The forum is monitored by technical staff in the professional bodies and volunteers who are members of the Issues Overview Group (IOG). They try to identify potentially widespread issues. These issues might need further escalation within HMRC if a satisfactory answer has not been provided on the forum. Alternatively, the technical staff may highlight an issue to members of their organisation who are not on the forum.

The search function

The biggest gripe about the old version of the Agent Forum was the unreliable search function. This made it hard to find previous posts or identify if a problem had been flagged up before and possibly solved.

At this stage, as the new updated forum has only been live for a few days it is hard to tell how much of an improvement the new search function is. My first impression is that the search does appear to be more reliable and you can filter based on when you think the issue might have been raised.

The search function also searches across a new knowledge base which provides links to HMRC guidance.

How to sign up

The forum is only visible to tax agents who have signed up and been accepted by HMRC. If you were already a contributor to the previous forum, then you should have received a link and instructions for transferring to the new forum when it went live. If you are a new user, then you can sign up by following the links here.

The initial sign-up process will only give you access to the Customer Forums, which are intended for the wider public. To get access to the Agent Forum, you need to go to your profile and tick ‘Request agent forums access’. You will then be asked for your professional body and membership number. Once these have been submitted, HMRC aims to approve your application within two working days. Membership of the forum is still limited to accountants who are a member of a professional body.

Not a cure-all

While we appreciate a forum might not be the preferred approach for everyone, at the ATT we are encouraging our members to sign up and use the forum. When problems are encountered, the more evidence that there is of any given issue, the better the chance we have of getting it resolved – to the benefit of both tax agents and HMRC.

The forum is not the place to report client-specific problems (for which the Agent Account Managers route may be more effective) and personal information about clients should not be included in any posts.

Where HMRC ask for details of a specific client’s situation to provide evidence of the issue, this should be sent separately to [email protected].

Other avenues

Agents who don’t wish to use the forum, or have a concern that they feel has not been adequately addressed, should contact the IOG representative for their professional body. Representative details can be found in the ‘Working Together’ section of the Agent Update.

While the forum is intended to be the first port of call for operational issues, it is not the only way to raise concerns, and the professional bodies can, where appropriate, raise points with HMRC in meetings or consultation responses.

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By SteLacca
16th Oct 2019 09:52

Shouldn't the headline be "HMRC continues elitist forum with a bit of an upgrade"?

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By djtax
16th Oct 2019 11:19

An apparent continuing weakness of the Forum is that HMRC seem willing only to pursue issues they deem to be widespread. All too often I come across obvious glitches in HMRC systems but invariably in only one or two client cases: being a small practice I will never be able to provide the dozens or even hundreds of examples they seem to require! Nevertheless in my opinion it sometimes only takes one example of the HMRC computer saying eg 2+2=5 to demonstrate a system error (and yes I have recently seen the equivalent of 2+2=5 on an HMRC computer generated SA tax calculation that simply did not correctly add up two figures to the total shown!).

The Forum HMRC 'Issues Resolution Manager' (an impressive sounding title worthy of George Orwell's 'newspeak') generally asks for more evidence of an issue, from other firms, before deciding if it is widespread. Given the very poor numbers of firms actively engaged on the Forum this never happens in sufficient numbers to satisfy HMRC so many issues do not get taken further. Also it can be many weeks (even months) for HMRC to respond fully to issues raised - the usual response is that they have sent the query on to the relevant HMRC department who then seem to take forever to get back with a substantive reply, if at all.

On the old Forum the HMRC Issues Resolution Manager had the sole power to close down a thread and claim it to be resolved (thereby adding to the impressive statistics demonstrating the 'success' of the Forum) despite in many cases agents not feeling that a matter has been dealt with adequately. It remains to be seen if this is still the case with the new Forum.

The old Forum gave some indication of the numbers of its users (which included the numbers for the separate general public forum, which rendered it misleadingly high anyway). This info seems to have gone - perhaps because it was such an embarrassingly low proportion of the total number of firms in the UK registered as agents with HMRC. If only a tiny minority of firms actively engage with HMRC on the Forum it seems as if HMRC take that as evidence of the apparently euphoric state of satisfaction from the 90% who do not engage.

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