HMRC system upgrade planned this weekend
HMRC has announced that its semi-annual software upgrade will take place over the weekend of 5-6 April.
The core element of the work will be completed between Friday evening and Sunday morning, but some tasks will continue into Monday morning. A close examination of the schedule for different services shows that most online submission mechanisms will continue working for both HMRC's own tools and commercial software. But electronic acknowledgements will be delayed.
The areas that will be receiving the most attention during the upgrade will be:
- Charities: 20:15 Friday - 09:00 Sunday (36:45hrs)
- Construction industry scheme: 20:30 Friday - 07:30 Monday (59hrs)
- Corporation tax: 20:15 Friday - 07:00 Monday (58:45hrs)
- Online agent authorisation 20:15 Friday - 08:00 Sunday (39:45hrs)
- PAYE: 20:30 Friday - 09:00 Sunday (36:30hrs)
- VAT Online: 20:15 Friday - 09:00 Sunday (36:45hrs)
HMRC played down the significance of the “routine” seasonal upgrade and told AccountingWEB that it would not herald the launch of any new digital services. This stance is at odds with the department’s Digital Strategy, which set out an ambitious timetable for a range of online services, including a client tax dashboard for agents (known as online self service), digital self assessment and expanded facilities for what used to be known as the business tax dashboard and is now referred to as “Your tax account”.
HMRC’s reticence is understandable. During the past few months its computer systems have attracted unwanted attention and criticism for apparent disconnections within the real time information (RTI) system for PAYE and the business tax dashboard, (aka Your tax account).
In her recent interview with AccountingWEB, HMRC director general for tax Ruth Owen said that RTI remained her top development priority and acknowledged that the department needed to address a number of “unexpected problems” that meant the business tax dashboard was not showing many companies’ correct position for PAYE.
“If you’re reporting in real time we need to look at what we can do so that what you are reporting is reported back to you as soon as possible to avoid any confusion,” Owen said. Since then, HMRC has confirmed it had made some fixes that should prevent separate employments within the same company from being merged within the tax account.
HMRC officials have acknowledged that while taxpayers are expected to file in real time, its RTI systems only support batch updates to the business tax account twice a month. Owen indicated the department was keen to make the internal data exchange more immediate, but it would be a lot to expect that to arrive with this upgrade. Also needing attention are issues around residual duplicate PAYE records, wrong tax codes and the new employer’s NIC allowance, which will be effected as a tick box on EPS submission.
The late payment and non-filing generic notification alerts that caused so much fuss in February (and one reported instance in March), should return this month with some enhancements, including a rumoured online late filing penalty appeal mechanism.
Since February HMRC has been running a number of low-key pilot schemes, including the “Your tax account” facility for businesses, PAYE online for employees, and digital self assessment. With so many other IT developments on its plate, and having taken so much flak for going live with untested systems in the past couple of years, HMRC is adopting a “soft launch” strategy.
It’s quite possible that these elements will be included in this weekend’s update, but only invited users will be able to get their hands on them so they can be quietly tested in a live environment before they are offered more widely. Given what we’ve seen before, that’s a sensible approach.
HMRC said the temporary redirections from HMRC.gov.uk were put in place as part of preparatory work to more migrate HMRC website content to Gov.uk.
“Unfortunately visitors to the HMRC website were automatically redirected to Gov.uk for a short period earlier today. This problem has now been resolved and we apologise to any customers who were inconvenienced over this short period,” the department said, adding that the work was not linked to the IT upgrade work taking place over the weekend.
That may be the official line, but if the back-room upgrade connects to interfaces that link to HMRC.gov.uk and will ultimately migrate to the new Gov.uk site, then they are inextricably linked.
The website project represents yet another item on the HMRC development agenda. With so many different aspects of its systems to contend with, not to mention tax policy changes such as the NIC employer's allowance, it comes as little surprise to learn that HMRC's website migration is taking longer than originally expected.
The last reported deadline for the web project was March this year, but the migration of hundreds of pages of content as well as agent, self assessment, PAYE and VAT online services hasn’t happened yet.
When we do get more detailed information, AccountingWEB will report back on the progress of this project too.
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