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HMRC makes U-turn on request-only paper SA tax returns

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HMRC has reversed its decision to remove the option of downloading paper self assessment tax returns from gov.uk. 

6th Apr 2023
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Self assessment (SA) tax return forms 2022/23 will remain available to download from gov.uk, after HMRC had previously announced it was removing that option. This would have left taxpayers having to call HMRC to ask for the form to be posted to them. 

HMRC decided to keep the forms on gov.uk after representations from professional bodies such as ICAEW and other stakeholders.

However, the tax department will continue to write to 135,000 taxpayers that normally file using paper returns and encourage them to file online. 

As Rebecca Cave reported at the end of March, taxpayers that fall into certain categories – like those with special security concerns such as MPs, those that are on the exclusions from self assessment online filing list or an in-year return is filed for a deceased client – are required to file a paper tax return. In these cases, agents with commercial software can submit the tax return, then print and submit it to HMRC.

Digital by default

As explained in the Simplifying and modernising HMRC’s income tax services through the tax administration framework consultation paper, the tax department’s push is part of its digital by default ambition. 

According to the discussion paper, HMRC currently sends around 70m items by post at a cost of £40m to the taxpayer. Therefore, HMRC plans to reduce the higher-volume letters and forms it sends out over 2023/24 and 2024/25 and provide these through digital channels instead. 

The other letters and forms that HMRC will move to digital by default are: 

  • SA316 Notice to file
  • SA300 Statement of account
  • SA250 Welcome letter
  • SA251 Exit letter
  • R002 Repayment notification
  • CT603 Postal notice to deliver a company tax return
  • P2 Employee coding notice
  • P800 Tax calculation

The discussion paper also said that the tax authority intends to move towards requiring digital interaction from digitally capable employers and businesses. HMRC has already confirmed that all P11Ds and P11D(b) forms must be filed online from April 2023. The next step is moving towards providing “digitally capable employers with P6 and P9 coding notices solely using digital methods”.  

Ian Holloway recently raised concern about HMRC’s digital-by-default approach, writing: “It is very important for HMRC to realise that not all employers/agents have the processes in place to allow this. The move from paper to electronic or annual processing to payrolling benefits is a transformation project that requires thought and, more importantly, time.”

Meanwhile, the restriction of the Agent Dedicated Line for over six weeks from 17 April means agents will be encouraged to use the online services instead.

Community reaction

When AccountingWEB reported that paper SA tax returns would only be available on request, AccountingWEB readers raised concerns about HMRC’s digital-by-default approach. 

Catherine Newman used the example of her two clients asking for SA302s to raise questions about how digital by default will work in practice. “[My clients] have personal tax accounts as they claimed the grants but as I have filed their returns using third-party software their personal tax account tells them to contact me. How is the HMRC computer going to determine who usually files on paper? What is going to happen when current non-taxpayers get caught in the tax net due to the reduction in exemptions?”

AccountingWEB regular Duggimon said: “I’m OK with digital by default if they fix the glaring issues with digital before making it mandatory, but they seem to be intent on forcing everyone on to digital first and then having a look at what the problems might be with that.”

Replies (17)

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By Refs1
06th Apr 2023 20:30

Very tempting given there appalling consideration of the services of agents, to post all my tax returns in one go on paper, around mid September by recorded delivery.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Refs1:
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By Postingcomments
08th Apr 2023 13:41

Me too. Will definitely post my return and my parents' returns this year. Use the paper system or we'll lose it!

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Replying to Refs1:
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By sammerchant
12th Apr 2023 10:02

Better send them 'Registered' as Royal Mail may quite easily fail to deliver recorded delivery mail and offer you two books of first class stamps as 'compensation'!

Thanks (1)
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By Hugo Fair
06th Apr 2023 21:32

"HMRC concurrently sends around 70m items by post at a cost of £40m to the taxpayer. Therefore, HMRC plans to reduce the higher-volume letters and forms it sends out over 2023/24 and 2024/25 and provide these through digital channels instead"

Ignoring the use of 'concurrently' (which makes no sense in the quoted context), there's the usual dearth of any useful breakdown behind those bland numbers.
* What are the costs of sending the same items digitally (clue: it's not £0)?
* What digital channels are being considered for missives *from* HMRC (clue: email works but HMRC don't like it - whereas texts mostly disappear into the void)?
* How will 'customers' be given the chance to opt-in to those channels (or indeed opt back out later) - and how will they be able to simply change email/phone/etc contact details?
* Is there any data on the real uptake of PTAs and their ilk (clue: not just based on a one-time login but on a regular, say monthly, check in)?
* When will HMRC recognise that a simple desire 'not to waste money on buying software just to file a return' is a morally acceptable reason for a taxpayer to refuse to go down that channel?
* Where are the plans for communicating all these changes as they are introduced, typically piecemeal, both in terms of organised guidance and via proactive messaging (initially on paper)?

Fundamentally ... is there a quantified plan (a schedule with costed actions) against which their progress can be monitored via public statistics?
Actually it's only my last question to which there is a known answer ... which is No!

Thanks (10)
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By Paul Crowley
07th Apr 2023 14:20

What a stupid organisation
If only we a government that regulated such nefarious organisations

Thanks (4)
Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By johnjenkins
13th Apr 2023 14:46

All wannabees that don't have a clue.

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By Moo
11th Apr 2023 16:03

Where I live in a small village in Bedfordshire we are rapidly becoming digital by default because Royal Mail seem to have reduced our paper postal deliveries to once a week (if we are lucky). Doesn't work too well for the elderly who keep missing medical appointments because the letters notifying them arrive after the appointment has been missed.
We do have reasonable internet though but that may not help the really elderly.
Failing public services all around.

Thanks (3)
Morph
By kevinringer
12th Apr 2023 10:04

"As Rebecca Cave reported at the end of March, taxpayers that fall into certain categories – like those with special security concerns such as MPs ... are required to file a paper tax return."

What security concerns? Are HMRC saying that GOV.UK is insecure? This is serious. AccountingWeb: please investigate and report back.

Thanks (2)
Morph
By kevinringer
12th Apr 2023 10:06

If HMRC wants to cut down on paper, why do they issue a SA302 every time they process a Marriage Allowance claim?

Thanks (1)
Morph
By kevinringer
12th Apr 2023 10:07

If HMRC want to cut down on paper, why don't they accept emails instead of insisting on paper forms? HMRC did run an email pilot for about 10 years. That eliminated all paper. But instead of rolling out email to all agents, HMRC closed down the pilot a couple of years ago and replaced it with: paper. Clearly a case of the left hand of HMRC not knowing what the right hand is doing.

Thanks (1)
Morph
By kevinringer
12th Apr 2023 10:09

If HMRC want to cut down on paper, why have they removed online processed and replaced with paper? For example, we agents used to be able to register a non-nominated partner for SA via the agent portal. HMRC removed that functionality half a dozen years ago. At the time HMRC said they would replace it with a digital process: but HMRC have never delivered that replacement digital service. Instead, we have to use paper form SA401.

Thanks (1)
Morph
By kevinringer
12th Apr 2023 10:14

"The other letters and forms that HMRC will move to digital by default are...."

How will HMRC achieve this when HMRC doesn't have email addresses for most taxpayer, and HMRC refuses to issue emails that contain any personal information anyway? Do HMRC think that simply placing the notice in the PTA that few clients use is satisfactory?

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By galletas
13th Apr 2023 08:54

They haven't updated the website - it still has the old no paper guidance, plus the form says 'for reference only' if you can actually find it:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/self-assessment-tax-return-sa100

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By Homeworker
13th Apr 2023 16:57

Thank goodness for that. I took on an elderly short-term client last year (short-term as I am retiring) and filed his return on paper so that they would continue to send him paper forms. He has been trying since the end of March to contact HMRC to ask them to send him a paper return for 2022/2023, with no success. I should now be able to print one off for him, which he would not have been able to do himself.

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By Homeworker
08th Jun 2023 16:24

SA100's still seem to be unavailable online - the site says to phone them for a form!
Comments posted online suggest that the forms being sent out are poor photocopies that don't put the later entries on the usual pages.

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Replying to Homeworker:
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By johnjenkins
09th Jun 2023 10:07

Phone the helpline?

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Replying to Homeworker:
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By Moo
12th Jun 2023 07:37

Don't know where online you are looking but I'm looking at a 22/23 SA100 on my other screen right now - address
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploa...

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