No CATO: Agents won’t get new HMRC CT software

John Stokdyk
Editor
AccountingWEB.co.uk
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HMRC has announced that it will retire the current corporation tax (CT) online filing form and replace it with a basic online tool.

The move has already caused friction with professional representatives who are concerned that the proposed free online tool will no longer be available for agents.

Together with Companies House, HMRC is working on a “new, improved” company tax return and company accounts filing service called Company Accounts and Tax Online (CATO).

“CATO is an online service which companies will access using their own filing credentials, unlike the existing HMRC free filing software, which uses a form downloaded from the internet,” the department said in an email to interested parties.

Generally CT returns are filed on companies’ behalf by advisers who use commercial software, HMRC acknowledged. Currently there is no restriction on who can download and use the existing free software, but agents will not be able to use CATO in this way, the department warned.

The announcement did not sit well with the ICPA, which published a critical comment on AccountingWEB’s Supplier news page: “Just how will that work? What if the company pass their own filing credentials to their accountant?

“Are HMRC really saying that a company’s duly appointed and trusted agent cannot be allowed access? Are they so angry with agents that they are spitefully excluding that small number of small practices that use the free software on behalf of their clients?

“And how are they to monitor or police this? Will there be a fine if a company ask their accountant to help out because they are getting in a mess?” the ICPA said.

The CIOT statement on the matter also spoke of the tax body’s concern that its members would be adversely affected.

HMRC’s announcement acknowledged: “We understand that some agents are concerned about the withdrawal of the free HMRC software and the need in future to use commercial software to file company accounts and company tax returns on behalf of clients.”

To soften the blow, it announced that the current software for accounting periods ending on or before 31 December 2015 will remain available until 31 December 2016. Since returns for accounting periods ending 31 December 2015 will not normally be due until 31 December 2016, “This allows at least a year for those agents who use the HMRC product to make alternative arrangements,” HMRC said.

The UK has a highly competitive tax software industry, the department added. Single-use CT filing programs are available for £25-£50, and unlimited use packages for less than £250. “So an agent with 25 clients would need to add only £10 each to their bills to cover costs,” HMRC said. 

Tax software suppliers are hardly likely to object to a surge of new business, but executives expressed mild surprise at the announcement. TaxCalc director Steve Checkley, who chairs the trade body BASDA’s accountants in practice forum has known that HMRC was keen to improve its online CT system, but told AccountingWEB: “It was only until the announcement the other day that we learned that agents would not be able to use it to submit on clients’ behalf.”

He added: “Whilst I don’t wish to put words in the mouths of fellow suppliers, I’m pretty sure we all believe that such products offer a superior experience to HMRC’s that justifies the cost.”

Replies

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By Myshkin
20th Aug 2015 10:51

Daft

Ok so now we will just have to log in under the company's name and password.  No big deal.

 

Just like we have always needed to do to get into the PAYE account (dashboard).

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20th Aug 2015 11:45

log in under the company's name and password

Myshkin wrote:

Ok so now we will just have to log in under the company's name and password.  No big deal.

 

Just like we have always needed to do to get into the PAYE account (dashboard).

If you were to use this option, the filing would be shown as done by the client (I think the declaration says that by ticking the box I agree that I have submitted etc). Would you tick the box as if you were the client?

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20th Aug 2015 10:59

CATO

Sounds distinctly like irrational malice on HMRC’s part – no apparent gain to any party, but perhaps we should hang around a little longer until some clarification emerges one way or the other.

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20th Aug 2015 11:04

Can I point out that...
HMRC's flippant it's only £250 extra is pretty typical of their opinion of agents and taxpayers in general. Some businesses like mine base their business on very small margins from a small client base and extra costs like these don't help, particularly on top of the Adobe software fiasco not working on a Mac resulting in me having to buy a windows PC just to file corporation tax returns. I'm so glad I'll be retiring in 2 years... Perhaps I'll deduct the £250 off my next tax payment using their same rationale.

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21st Aug 2015 02:56

TWO POINTS !

I am saddened but not surprised that HMRC are of the opinion that £250-£350 pa will only add £10 to each clients bill.Do they not realise that clients can be lost for £10 -£20 .......Second , who , not an agent , would be crazy enough to tackle CTAX Software ex HMRC !

The current software is so clumsy and poorly written that when I first used it I went out and bought  PROPER CTax software.

What on earth is going on at HMRC ? Are they in complete melt down ? I do not think I will continue to work with these incompetents a lot longer .If I want to watch clowns I can always visit the circus!

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20th Aug 2015 11:23

Not buying software
I'm certainly not going to buy overpriced software. Just a bit of additional admin work in the first year getting the usernames and passwords off all corporate clients.

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By Spriggy
20th Aug 2015 11:32

CATO

Reminds me of the guy who used to beat the hell out of Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther films and that is probably very apt.

 

What is wrong with HMRC? Why do they want to put obstacles in the path of smaller agents?  Surely in the interest of getting returns in on time and everyone towing the line with their taxes HMRC should be actively encouraging agents?

 

Perhapd they reap more rewards from the penalties they charge for non-compliance and perhaps they get a kick-back from some of the software companies, either way it sucks!

 

I'm with Jamiea4f on this being a very small agency with low rofit margins.

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By Ninian
20th Aug 2015 11:40

Just hope the new version.....

........is put together in a bit less of a rush than the previous shoddy effort  and by someone who understands company accounts - e.g. - space for share premium accounts. I use commercial CT with HMRC for smaller/est clients to keep their costs down. I can't see my commercial supplier only coming out at £10 per co for the add-on capacity but I, and hopefully others, will make a point of letting people know who is responsible for the increases - assuming that the use of client's codes mentioned elsewhere doesn't prove possible - otherwise plus ca change...

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20th Aug 2015 11:50

oh come on
If you use Taxfiler you can do a tax return in 5 mins, why faff about with HMRC software for hours , the ultimate false economy

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23rd Aug 2015 16:43

Ooohhhhh

Really.

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By qad999
20th Aug 2015 11:59

why so surprised ?

about hmrc .. they are neither civil ,nor servants .. and dont give a sh#t about what the public think

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20th Aug 2015 12:05

Free HMRC CT600 never worked for me!

I had to invest in commercial software 4 years ago as our broadband speeds could not file using the download, the PDF (based in a remote rural area, speeds get worse each year due to over subscription on old equipment at the exchange) was just to large a file to complete the submissions and would block internet traffic and jam the system for hours before returning a failed submission message, most of my clients are small Limited Companies so I was forced to either quit trading or fork out for software.  Having used commercial software exclusively ever since I would not return to the HMRC free method, I recently had cause to revisit the free version for a new client, thankfully I was working from another location which had a strong broadband connection but still I found the PDF excessively time consuming having to re enter figures on a multitude of pages.  Personally, if I were to use the free version for all of my clients (assuming good broadband speed) the I would have to increase my fees to cover the extra time involved.  Using commercial software I can complete and submit a CT600 and account to Companies house in under 5 minutes as my accounts software pre fills all the fields directly from the final accounts, all I need to do is check through and update CA and AIA in most cases.  The HMRC version takes around 30 minutes, I need to print accounts to have the figures in front of me and have to re enter my gateway ID and Password.

If I were to look at this on a time basis valuing my time at £55 per hour (minimum charge out rate) then submission via HMRC tools costs £27.50 per submission and via commercial software £4.58 per submission so a saving of £22.92 plus the environmental impact and cost of having to print the accounts.

In the case of an agent who has only a handful of Limited Companies on their client list then the basic tools would probably suffice assuming they have a high speed connection but having had my hand forced early on I would never go back willingly to that circus!

Incidentally, I also use the same package for SA and Partnership Returns with similar speed, it means I can take on much more work as the commercial software provides the ability to work offline until the point of submission. The same can be said of payroll, using commercial software the average weekly payrolls take me in the region of 1-3 minutes from start to end!

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By Beachy
20th Aug 2015 16:38

Which software package do you use?

Could I ask which software you use to file returns? We recently bought VT, and it's great, but we need to get another app in order to be able to file with it. We WERE using HMRC's free software filing app, but have the same issues with it that you had - it's slow, not very easy to use, etc. 

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20th Aug 2015 17:10

Which software package do you use

Hi Beachey

I have always typed accounts  in word. Got it down to a fine art with the help of the Buzzacott Preparing Company Accounts. I used PTP CT600 tax return software no problems. With the introduction of IXBRL I used the PTP accounts which I loathed with a vengeance couldn't get round them and the IXBRL drivel at all so went back to word and the HMRC software. I don't want t learn accounts software for 4 tax returns as I'm happy with word typing. I really feel I'm being forced to retire. I just wanted to do it when it suited me and my clients.

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20th Aug 2015 13:24

HMRC, reducing charge out rates to NIL!

I think hmrc statement that unlimited packages cost only £250 demonstrates the depth of their understanding, show me the unlimited package for £250 that connects seamlessly with my existing accounts production software! this fool needs retraining before making any further ridiculous claims on additional costs.

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20th Aug 2015 13:43

yorkie
What accounts package do you use

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23rd Aug 2015 16:44

WHAT!

None of your business what filing software other people use.

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By graffle
20th Aug 2015 13:54

They really don't like small businesses do they
I have a very small sole practicitioner business, some bookkeeping, some sole traders, and fewer than 10 small ltd companies (none of whom are likely to love the extra cost). I'll be hoping I can go via client login details. I can just imagine lots of agents shelling out on tax software, then HMRC making a hash of their new "simplified" product and shelving it, leaving nothing to work with.

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20th Aug 2015 14:05

@yorkiehurst

Precisely, the software I use on an unlimited basis does final accounts, SA, CT and everything in between and costs £1,250 per year,  I use a separate provider for payroll.  On that basis and per my calculation on charge out rate savings vs using HMRC basic tools I would need 54.5 Limited Companies on my books to cover the cost of the software without having to increase my fees, thankfully, when I opted to use commercial software I was already at this level and have continued to grow since but for those who only have a few clients this would certainly not be viable. 

I provide submission services for a few smaller accountancy firms whereby I submit the CT Returns on their behalf using their credentials on my software for a nominal fee, HMRC's new plans may well see more accountants seeking similar services, however, this is not without it's pitfalls as it could lead to poaching of clients for some of the less scrupulous individuals out there!

HMRC are clearly not pro agent, the tools they provide are clunky and tedious and support is bare minimum, I remember in the early days making a call to tech support when trying to submit a CT return using HMRC tools,  I concluded the call, in tears and was unable to focus for the rest of the day, the following day I composed myself to try and speak with them again in a bid to resolve the issue, the result was worse than the previous day, HMRC refused to accept that their software would not work with slower broadband speeds and suggested that maybe if I were having such difficulties I should consider renting an office in an area with better speeds or consider a career change (I work from home, had recently moved to a larger house with an outbuilding fully equipped as a commercial office within the grounds from an area tat was still on dial up before online filing had become compulsory).  This prompted me to invest in the commercial software (far cheaper than relocating or renting an office).  Their solutions to their issues do not take into consideration the fact that we do not all have the luxury of high speed broadband and the funds to purchase software licenses, would they prefer smaller accountants to close their practices and claim JSA whilst seeking new employment!

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20th Aug 2015 14:12

Also the Accounts

The cheaper end CT filers do not do the iXBRL accounts though do they?

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20th Aug 2015 15:49

Software suppliers

Removed

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By Myshkin
20th Aug 2015 16:16

Well---

you should use Mandy as your moniker.

 

Edit - removing the post I was referring to will leave everybody bemused.  But never mind.

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20th Aug 2015 14:28

carnmores, iaccounts

im with sage, which explains all about costs for me etc!!

I did try switch to another SA tax provider a couple of years ago (after much studying AW provider surveys and recommendations from contributors), but they just managed to corrupt all my data, then tell me to go try get it sorted! I haven't had the courage to try make the break since, because for all sages faults, their support is excellent, and rescued my practice after the above near disaster.

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20th Aug 2015 14:34

And other thing ...

Presumably if HMRC are going to make malcontents of the army of low t/o agents, they will staff up to handle the increased phone calls. Not.

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20th Aug 2015 14:54

VT & Tax filer

 

For solo practitioner:

VT Final Accounts package - £199 per annum for unlimited accounts production/ IXBRL/ excellent online submission to Companies House

Tax Filer -  £15 per month for unlimited number of tax returns ( all types).

Total annual cost of £379 + Vat for all your accounts/tax compliance needs.

 

 

 

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20th Aug 2015 15:42

Costs

killer33 wrote:

For solo practitioner:

VT Final Accounts package - £199 per annum for unlimited accounts production/ IXBRL/ excellent online submission to Companies House

Tax Filer -  £15 per month for unlimited number of tax returns ( all types).

Total annual cost of £379 + Vat for all your accounts/tax compliance needs.

Don't forget that for VT you do need to pay for Excel too, though most users are likely to have that anyway.

If your final accounts needs are simple (small unaudited companies) you can use Taxfiler for that too, so you don't need VT and only need spend £15 a month for Taxfiler.

Whatever software option you choose it should not really affect margins if you are charging sensibly. Of course, if you are part of the "race to the bottom" cost cutting craze then you might struggle. But frankly you deserve it.

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By graffle
20th Aug 2015 19:51

I already use VT...
...so this looks promising. I'll have a look at TaxFiler, thanks.

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By trecar
20th Aug 2015 15:39

Costs plus

Interesting to read all the comments especially the advert from the employee of the commercial software supplier. I think we are all aware that software is expensive to maintain especially as the Chancellor believes in making the tax system ever more complex to operate as each year goes by. But I find it amusing that HMRC consider the cost of software is just £10 per client per annum. It just goes to show how divorced from reality they are. Having insisted that accounts for limited companies are filed under the iXBRL regime then insisting that CT returns are filed online do they really think that is the end of the matter? What about the hardware and software to get to the position of having the information to file and of course the fees for internet access and the security procedures that go with it. Plus the facilities for data backup and the attendant security protocols that are required to protect that data. And remember that a printer, stationery and postage is required in order to communicate with HMRC as they still haven't worked out we are in the 21st Century as far as communications are concerned. And all that works out at an extra £10 per client? No wonder their administration is in mess. If the message that spokesperson is passing on is for real then the upper management echelons of HMRC must be bordering on complete disassociation with the world that the rest of us live in.

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20th Aug 2015 15:48

Maths

trecar wrote:

I find it amusing that HMRC consider the cost of software is just £10 per client per annum.

That's because they can do simple maths. Yes, if you are adding the cost of a computer, printer etc then it's going to work out more, but do you really expect us to beleive that you would not have these anyway? Get real.

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20th Aug 2015 16:00

CATO

Absolutely wonderful. I'm down to 4 limited company clients, one of which is a freebie, and 2 of the other 3 won't exist in 2 years, just long enough to be a problem. I tried the software route, hated it the learning curve was unbelievable, and went back to good old word. IXBRL is my issue. I had CT600 software. I was willing to put up with a clunky HMRC system for a few clients. At 62 I don't need this agro.

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20th Aug 2015 16:57

Apples and oranges

A lot of people appearing to be looking at the cost of setting up from scratch, and having software that integrates with their accounts software, but surely this isn't the case.

We are talking about people who are currently using the HMRC software. So they already have the hardware. They already have whatever software they use to create the accounts. I'm pretty sure that the current HMRC system doesn't seamlessly integrate with any existing accounts packages, so why would such a person suddenly need an integrated package. They already have the internet access to submit using HMRC software. Why on earth are people bringing in all these costs such practitioners will already be incurring?

So we are actually talking about people using the stand-alone HMRC system changing over to a stand-alone commercial system. The only additional cost is the cost of that commercial software. With programs like Taxfiler available, the cost quoted by HMRC is potentially a bit high in fact.

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20th Aug 2015 18:01

Boot up the ar&e

As an agent, we have used HMRC's free CT600 filing service for the last 8 years.  It takes its time, and is useless on the odd occasion (Prior Year Adjustment etc) but I have had nothing to compare it to.  We're now filing about 100 - 150 CT600's a year and we should probably have moved to a commercial package a few years ago.  I'm a bit of a technophobe and most likely, once I've found the right commercial filing software, view this as a welcome kick up the arse[***].  I know a while back, when we bit the bullet on PAYE filings for clients and we moved from HMRC's free Basic Payroll Tools (for the filing) and excel payslips (for the clients), onto a commercial payroll package, we're saving about 2-3 staff-days per month.   Thanks everyone for the feedback on the filing products they use.  I am liking the look of TaxFiler so far for the CT600s. Having said all that, screw HMRC - I remember starting out as a sole practitioner about 8 years ago, and having a tiny handful of clients and no money left over, and finding the HMRC free online filing tools very helpful.

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22nd Aug 2015 11:05

Building a practice from scratch

Jon Chapple wrote:

I remember starting out as a sole practitioner about 8 years ago, and having a tiny handful of clients and no money left over, and finding the HMRC free online filing tools very helpful.

This is my experience, and I'm sure that of many others. When you are building and don't have a full day, you are happy to substitute your time for money. That's why the sums above, either on opportunity cost or incremental cost, don't quite apply when building a practice.

The free tools are very helpful. I thought we were going to get an online CT600 like SA.

@trecar also spot on re next generation - so why was HMRC Basic PAYE tools desktop?

Thus HMRC are creating new barriers to entry for aspiring sole practitioners - either young or semi retired.

@carnmores and @Jon Chapple both correct, time to move on. Probably.

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By Spriggy
24th Aug 2015 08:50

CT600

Similar experience to you John and I also thought HMRC would provide an online CT600 like SA.  I've always had a problem with partnership returns though as they have never been available for online submission.

 

The next thing is the PAYE tools as I understand there will NOT be an upgrade to deal with the pensions we are all having to Autoenrol our clients for.

 

I feel most strongly that for some unknown reason HMRC are trying to squeeze out the smaller practitioners.  As sais by others you would think HMRC would be happy to teke all the help they could get!

 

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30th Aug 2015 20:31

Redefining an "Agent"

Spriggy wrote:

I feel most strongly that for some unknown reason HMRC are trying to squeeze out the smaller practitioners.  As said by others you would think HMRC would be happy to take all the help they could get!

You could be onto something. In the early 'agency sounding board' meetings, two or three years ago, it was clear that the HMRC reps couldn't get their heads around that with the extension of online filing they were heading for a 'two tier' agency system: A higher tier of technically proficient and software owning (and mainly qualified [said guardedly]) agents. And a lower tier of friends, relatives and next door neighbours helping out.

Maybe someone has figured out that forcing agents to buy software is a smarter path to a one-tier system.

 

 

 

 

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By trecar
21st Aug 2015 12:13

Modern hardware

Younger people and sometimes not so younger people use tablets not PCs or laptops. Some even just use their new phablet. There's are apps for spreadsheets, word processors, accounts, printing etc. So the use of hardware is changing rapidly. I checked what computers were being used on my latest University lecture in a room full of provided desktops. Of the students present, 10% were using the desktops, 10% their own laptop, 25% were using tablets, 5% using their phones (although this may not have been for note taking or research) and the remainder were using good old fashioned pen and paper. And this for a Masters lecture. So I think with the increasing advent of hot desking and remote working we are going to have to rethink what 'Real' means. Apart from official submissions I now have very little need for a PC or laptop with my younger clients as it is all done through the internet. One client runs his business exclusively using his mobile phone and cloud based storage. I have horrors over security but it works for him (he hates paper). So my original post (which I must admit was tongue in cheek) re costs was questioning how much does HMRC understand that the world is changing. The younger person wants to do everything on the go they don't want to sit in front of a screen. The latest reports say it ain't healthy.

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21st Aug 2015 14:08

Absolute Tax, Integrated package.

As a software I cannot fault it and the support is fantastic, it offers the full monthly, final accounts, CT, SA is what I use it for but they do have payroll and a bookkeeping package.  I spent a lot of time customising a spreadsheet which enables me to copy and paste into the final accounts meaning if I need to I can still do old fashioned bookkeeping in excel (as I do for very small clients).

I spent a great deal of time testing softwares and built my practice around the ease of use of my chosen packages, whilst absolute may not be the cheapest I would not change, it1s all under one roof so to speak and I can see in the dashboard all the filing deadlines as well as set up multiple agents (which is a plus as hubby and  both have our own practices so are able to share the software)

 

 

 

 

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By janefg
21st Aug 2015 16:27

Clubs and associations
I use IRIS software for all my company CT filing but do the accounts for an unincorporated association that pays CT on its non-mutual income. I can't process these accounts in IRIS and do them in Excel and submit them to HMRC through their aforementioned clunky software (swearing all the time!). So, what do I do in future? Get the client to register and then use their log-in? It seems to be an unnecessary work round when it is no skin off HMRC's nose to allow agents to use the new software. There must be many clubs and associations and other unincorporated bodies who use agents to submit their Returns.

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By janefg
21st Aug 2015 16:40

Clubs and associations
Forgot to say that I attach my non-standard accounts as a PDF to the Return.

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22nd Aug 2015 09:16

Jon Chapple

i cant believe how much time you waste with HMRC software its bonkers look at Taxfiler you could file 50 in a day ;-)

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23rd Aug 2015 16:41

I would have thought HMRC wanted agents to use their software

I currently use HMRC corporation tax on-line filing software and its slow and long winded but I like it, I am not happy with the above.  I will have to look into filing on line returns as a client.

And as for, 

The UK has a highly competitive tax software industry, the department added. Single-use CT filing programs are available for £25-£50, and unlimited use packages for less than £250. “So an agent with 25 clients would need to add only £10 each to their bills to cover costs,” HMRC said. 

 

As Tommy Cooper used to say just like that, its so easy to pass on, no problems...NOT!

If the above is the case we have a highly competitive Corporation Tax rate so lets gets someone else to pay our clients corporation tax liability we would only need to add £10 to PAYE employees tax bill.

 

I would have thought HMRC had a duty of care to provide free filing software for Agents, its in their interest as well to receive tax returns on approved software.

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By Spriggy
24th Aug 2015 08:51

Spelling

Note to self - re-read before posting!

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28th Aug 2015 17:36

This has become the main thread on this subject

I posted elsewhere the complaint I sent by email, and here is the reply I just received;

"Dear David Ross (sic)

I’m sorry my colleague's reply to your query did not answer your questions as fully as you expected.

As the press release explains, the new product replaces the existing downloadable HMRC free filing service  with an online service that makes use of modern open-source technologies that make it easier and quicker for the smallest unrepresented companies (that have the simplest Corporation Tax affairs) to submit their annual Accounts and Company Tax Returns themselves.

The new HMRC service is a basic one that is not intended to meet the professional needs of Agents, most of whom already use commercial software for this purpose. The downloadable free filing service, whilst intended and designed for these same small companies, could not be  restricted to the intended audience, which is why some agents have been using it. The new service can be restricted in this way, so we are giving those agents who have been using it notice of the change so that they can make alternative arrangement in plenty of time.

We understand that many agents who use the downloadable free filing service also use commercial software for some of their clients, and so are  familiar with the wide range of third party products available. Many of these products produce iXBRL as part of their service and for those that do not there are many commercial companies that can produce iXBRL versions of documents.

We recognise that this will be disappointing news for those agents who have been using HMRC’s downloadable free filing service on behalf of their small corporate clients. That is why we have allowed as long a period as possible for them to research and procure suitable alternative software.

Best wishes

 

Mike Duffield

CATO Delivery Service Manager"

 

 

 

 

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30th Aug 2015 20:18

Not remotely in touch

Re letter from HMRC supplied by David Ross

davidross wrote:

The new HMRC service is a basic one that is not intended to meet the professional needs of Agents, most of whom already use commercial software for this purpose.

Please supply research basis. Please exclude hearsay, and anything supplied by larger firms.

davidross wrote:

The downloadable free filing service, whilst intended and designed for these same small companies, could not be  restricted to the intended audience, which is why some agents have been using it.

Doesn't make sense - why is it available through the agency log-in? All HMRC had to do was stop that. Simple programming.

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By Myshkin
28th Aug 2015 17:51

This is where I came in

Thank you CATO Delivery Service Manager.

 

Ok so now we will just have to log in under the company's name and password.  No big deal.

 

Just like we have always needed to do to get into the PAYE account (dashboard).

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By Spriggy
28th Aug 2015 17:55

Unsatisfactory

All I can think of saying is "Hmmph"

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29th Aug 2015 08:05

Myshkin

its fairly easy for the H(MRC) software to block users on the basis of the ISP , personally i would approve of this 

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By Myshkin
02nd Sep 2015 10:37

Blocking Agents

Are agents to be blocked from doing clients VAT returns then?  What's the difference?

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29th Aug 2015 19:56

HMRC are reportedly revisiting identity assurance and multi-factor authentication, so logging in as the client is not going to be an option. I believe it is one of the things they are specifically trying to crack down on to combat repayment fraud.

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07th Sep 2015 17:29

taxfiler
Will prepare xbrl accounts just enter or paste in a TB, magic ......

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