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HMRC stops sending blank self assessment returns

HMRC recently announced that it would no longer be automatically sending blank copies of self assessment returns as part of a paper-saving measure.

14th Apr 2020
Staff Writer AccountingWEB
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Brown HMRC envelope. An envelope from the UK tax office HM Revenue and Customs. Never a welcome letter to receive.
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In 2019, HMRC automatically sent out over 500,000 paper returns. In an online announcement this month, the department said self assessment taxpayers will no longer receive paper returns to encourage them to use the online service instead.

Instead of their self assessment return, taxpayers will be presented with a notice to file via their personal tax account. Accessing the online account will trigger an invitation to authorise paperless communication via their personal tax account.

Taxpayers will still be able to file with paper by downloading the blank forms from HMRC’s website and sending the completed returns in by the 31 October paper filing deadline.

Last year saw a 110% increase taxpayers registering to communicate digitally and 94% of self assessments were filed online, HMRC said. 

“Digitisation remains an HMRC priority but we’re still committed to giving taxpayers the ability to choose what’s best for them, so those who want to file a paper return can still do so,” said HMRC director general for customer services Angela MacDonal.

Responding to HMRC’s announcement, Bokio UK accounting manager Dan Stopp said: “Digital accounting and bookkeeping solutions have been available for over a decade, and whilst this paper-saving initiative from HMRC is a positive step, it is also long overdue.”

“By going digital you are going green, which is important considering we all need to think about our carbon footprint,” added Stopp.

Digital by default

HMRC said it will encourage paper filers to use the online service where possible. Some taxpayers may be worried about making the transition from paper to digital services, said Stopp, “But doing so opens up a myriad of benefits, particularly for smaller businesses, sole traders and freelancers.”

However, this move raises some attendant issues for advisers and their relationship with clients. An ICAS discussion paper on the subject highlighted problems with the increasing complexity of agent authorisations for different services, particlarly if the client needs to follow up initial authorisation and via their digital account.

The other long-established risk is that if tax agents are cut out of the communications loop, they won't know what their clients are getting from HMRC. 

Cases have already come to tribunal where clients were unaware of penalties being raised in their online tax accounts. In the absence of any warning letter, they also won't have anything to show their tax adviser. 

AccountingWEB members have also vented their general frustration in Any Answers about being denied access to the information sent to their clients.

Have you encountered any problems or tricky situations as a result of the end of paper returns and “digital by default” policy? Share them below.

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Replies (2)

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By memyself-eye
09th Apr 2020 18:35

I got a paper 'reminder' today to complete an SA return for 2020. I've been doing SA returns on line for... ever!
The letter, 2 pages long, went in the (recycling) bin.

Doubtless my wife will get hers tomorrow!

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Replying to memyself-eye:
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By richard thomas
10th Apr 2020 10:41

I assume it wasn't really a reminder or you wouldn't have used quotation marks. More likely it was another letter of the same type you have been receiving "forever" ie a statutory notice to file under s 8 TMA. Unless you have signed up for digital communication then HMRC are obliged to send you the notice by post if they want to charge you penalties for failing to deliver it on time.

What strikes me about the announcement is that no one making a paper return in future will be doing so other than voluntarily, as they will not receive a return addressed to them which contains the notice to file, as actual paper returns did.

Any return printed off the internet and sent to HMRC will be a voluntary return treated as a real one by s 12D TMA.

Now might be the time for HMRC to acknowledge reality and declare that the UK no longer has a self-assessment system (except for the very small minority of paper filers who file late).

If you file online then HMRC does the calculation of liability within s 9(1) TMA using the tax calculation software embedded in the online return. If you file by paper and do so by 31 October then a self-assessment (Form SA110) is unnecessary as HMRC will do it. Only if you are late do HMRC have a discretion to do it if you do not.

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