Tax agents locked out of SEISS claims
The self-employed income support scheme (SEISS) will be open for applications from 13 May, but tax agents are barred from claiming the grant on behalf of their clients.
On 4 May HMRC started to contact taxpayers who it believes are entitled to claim an SEISS grant, telling them to be ready to claim when the portal opens next week.
HMRC has also appealed to tax agents to help their clients prepare, but tax agents won’t be able to access the SEISS portal to make grant claims on behalf of their clients.
Genuine or scam?
The initial contact to self-employed taxpayers is being made by email. Or, if the taxpayer has no email, HMRC will text message where it has a mobile phone number. Only where HMRC does not hold an email address or mobile phone number for the taxpayer will it send a physical letter, but this letter may not arrive until next week.
There are already numerous scam texts circulating purporting to be from HMRC, such as the one reported by AccountingWEB reader codling in which their client was asked to reply with their UTR number. As codling noted this information could be used by the scammer to make a fraudulent claim.
The genuine emails and texts from HMRC do not include an active link to click on; they only tell the taxpayer to be ready to claim.
Not necessarily eligible
The fact that the taxpayer has received this initial contact about the SEISS grant from HMRC doesn’t mean that they will meet all the criteria to receive the grant. HMRC will have the information about the trader’s profits for the years to 2018/19, but to claim the SEISS the taxpayer must also have traded in 2019/20 and be intending to trade in 2020/21. This information about current and future trading intentions will not yet be available to HMRC.
The other conditions for the SEISS grant are discussed in Coronavirus self-employed scheme: Get the details right.
HMRC is encouraging taxpayers to use its SEISS eligibility checker tool to check whether they can claim. However, this online tool only asks for the taxpayer’s UTR and NI numbers, it doesn’t ask about current or future trading intentions. Tax agents can use this checker on behalf of clients, and ask HMRC to review the case if they think a client has been incorrectly rejected as ineligible to apply.
The taxpayer is not required to use the checker tool in order to make a SEISS claim. However, if they do use it and provide an email address as requested for further correspondence, this may speed up the process of the claim. HMRC will use that email address to tell the taxpayer exactly when the SEISS portal will be open for them. This will be a specific date between 13 and 18 May, with different days allocated to different taxpayers.
The ICAEW said its members will be very disappointed that there is to be no agent access to the SEISS portal. The professional accountancy bodies have pressed HMRC for agents to be included in the process. But as Glyn Fullelove, president of the CIOT, confirmed, there was a balance of priorities between the speed of implementation and the extra functionality required to add agent access.
Tony Margaritelli, chair of the ICPA, said the exclusion of tax agents from the SEISS portal went down like a lead balloon with his members. He added, “Accountants are appointed by clients to look after their affairs and are trusted to do exactly that but yet at the time of their most pressing need HMRC is denying us the ability to do just that.”
The difference between the SEISS and the CJRS for furloughed employees is that the employer must provide the calculations of pay for the furlough employees, and hence accountants and payroll professionals have to be involved. The SEISS does not require the taxpayer to make any calculations, so perhaps this swung the pendulum towards speed and against agent access.
Elaine Clark, founder of CheapAccounting.co.uk, praised HMRC, saying it has delivered the system ahead of schedule, which allows time for taxpayers to set up a government gateway account if needed.
Clark also pointed out that the declarations required as part of the SEISS application, of intention to trade and whether the trade has been adversely affected by the coronavirus, can only be made the individual taxpayer.
HMRC has advised that agents should not use their clients’ credentials to apply for grants on behalf of clients and that doing so may trigger HMRC fraud checks and delay payment of the grant.
There will be a telephone-based SEISS grant application service for the digitally excluded to use, but HMRC has not released any details of that yet.