Why everyone should check their PTA

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Are you encouraging your clients to access their personal tax accounts? Over 16 million people have set up their PTA and enjoy the real benefits of instant accessing their personal tax data.

The personal tax account (PTA) is effectively Making Tax Digital for individuals. Ultimately, HMRC’s intention is to develop a full range of services to allow taxpayers to self-serve without having to contact HMRC by phone or post.

Although developments to the PTA have temporarily stalled because of the demands on HMRC resources created by Brexit, there are already many services that individuals can access via their PTA. These include:

  • reviewing PAYE coding notices
  • filing self assessment returns
  • obtaining state pension forecasts
  • updating tax credits and child benefit claims
  • making marriage allowance transfers

PAYE

Any taxpayer can set up their PTA but the service is particularly valuable for employees as it enables them to check that HMRC holds the correct information about their employment, and to review and request amendments to PAYE coding notices.

Checking whether HMRC holds the correct employment details is particularly useful as RTI data can contain errors: mismatches and duplicated payroll records do occur. In such cases, the individual’s form P60 or P45 is the only proof of their income, tax deductions and national insurance contributions for the period. Using their PTA, employees can check that the details of their employment income held by HMRC are correct and resolve any discrepancies.

Estimated income

Within the PAYE section, an individual can also check whether HMRC’s estimates of any other income are reasonable. Following the introduction of dynamic coding, where HMRC updates coding notices in-year as a result of certain triggers, it is very important that HMRC’s estimates of the taxpayer’s total income for the year are reasonable.

The dynamic coding system uses the total estimated income figure to recalculate tax codes so, if the estimated total income is unreasonable, the taxpayer will receive an inappropriate code and end up paying too much or too little tax.

Individuals can apply for adjustments to be made to their estimated income through their PTA, without having to call HMRC.

State pension and NIC records

Probably the first thing most people do (okay, it was the first thing that I did) on creating a PTA though is to check their state pension entitlement. It is possible to see your full history of NI contributions at the click of a button – far quicker than writing off for a forecast. It is easy to see if there are any years where contributions are missing, or if anything looks odd.

Since this data is not necessarily reconciled to other HMRC systems, it is important to check that your history of contributions is what you expect. Again, it is far better to resolve any discrepancies now, than to find out years or decades down the line that your state pension is less than you expected.

Administration

Individuals can also use their PTA to deal with basic administration such as telling HMRC of a change of address or to print proof of their National Insurance number.

Those within self assessment can also print off a tax computation or SA302, which is useful as proof of income for a mortgage application.

Advantages for agents   

Tax agents cannot access an individual’s PTA. This is a huge source of frustration for tax agents, who would be able to advise clients more effectively if they had easy access to all their client’s relevant tax details.

The major professional bodies have been arguing that tax agents should be able to see and do what their clients can since the inception of the PTA. It is certainly always at the top of any ATT wish-list when we are asked to comment on HMRC’s digital services.

Tax agents should not attempt to circumnavigate these restrictions by setting up a client’s PTA themselves. Agents who are members of one of the professional bodies which formulate the professional conduct in relation to taxation (PCRT) code are specifically advised to avoid knowing or using the client’s personal access credentials. In practice, this restriction applies to all agents, as HMRC takes a dim view of any agent accessing a client’s details in this manner.

It is worth encouraging those clients who are prepared to engage digitally to set up their PTAs themselves. Empowering clients to understand and access more information about their tax affairs should not result in the loss of meaningful work, and it does mean that clients can then access and share with you the data you need from their PTA such as NIC records, SA302s and pay and tax data details, especially for previous years where the client has lost paperwork.

In future, it may also help to speed up agent authorisation to act for new clients as HMRC develops more digital authorisation routes for clients.

About Helen Thornley

Hele Thornley

Helen Thornley has a focus on personal and capital taxes. Initially training as an accountant before moving to tax, she worked in practice until her appointment as a technical officer in 2017. She also has an interest in the history of tax.

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By johnt27
04th Jun 2019 11:29

"Tax agents should not attempt to circumnavigate these restrictions by setting up a client’s PTA themselves. Agents who are members of one of the professional bodies which formulate the professional conduct in relation to taxation (PCRT) code are specifically advised to avoid knowing or using the client’s personal access credentials. In practice, this restriction applies to all agents, as HMRC takes a dim view of any agent accessing a client’s details in this manner."

Does this apply to BTA's as well given that many agents, particularly with the inception of MTD for VAT, are avoiding the use of ASA's when possible?

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to johnt27
12th Jun 2019 10:38

Hi, thanks for your comment. My understanding is that it applies to BTA and PTA. According to the PCRT guidance "Except in exceptional circumstances, a member will explicitly file in their capacity as agent".
I have a recollection that this causes a conflict in cases where an agent logs in to the client's software to submit and the client's software will naturally have the client's Gateway credentials in it rather than the agent's, although I don't have a sense of how common that is. I believe that it is also possible for a client to allow an agent access to their BTA as a delegate which may be viewed differently. I will confirm the position with our prof standards team.

Update 12 June: I have confirmed that the advice applies to BTA and PTA.

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to Helen Thornley
05th Jun 2019 18:36

Reading the above alongside the comments from various accountants, I wonder whether it is not just HMRC who are out of touch with reality.

Mind, given that the Institutes put their fees up every year then spend a ton on fancy new offices - I think we know the answer.

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to AnnAccountant
12th Jun 2019 10:46

Thank you for your comment. I noted in the article that agents are frustrated by lack of access to the PTA and I expected comments about this, and that not all clients wish to or can engage with a PTA. In the meantime, the article only suggests that those clients that can engage, do engage with their PTA. I appreciate that not all clients can, but in the meantime we have to work with what we have got - and we will also continue to keep asking for better services for agents.
As an observation, at an ATT conference yesterday around 80% of the delegates in the room had set up their own PTAs.

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By raycad
to Helen Thornley
12th Jun 2019 11:48

Helen

I think what the majority of respondents are saying (and certainly that goes for me) is that we are not opposed to PTAs, per se. Indeed, I have one myself and so I am entirely unsurprised that 80% of ATT delegates have one, too.

A PTA can be of (limited) use where the taxpayer is NOT within the SA system. But where they are, the PTA really adds nothing to the sum of human knowledge, certainly as far as the tax agent is concerned.

Worse still, a PTA is entirely unintelligible to the lay person. In fact, as I stated in my first posting, they are unintelligible to me and I spent over 20 years as a senior Revenue Inspector and even longer than that as a specialist tax consultant.

I remain of the view that if a client is prepared to go to the expense of hiring an accountant/tax agent they are, by inclination, not going to want to spend time trying to decipher their PTA. You don't get a dog and bark yourself! But, even if they did, they could either misunderstand the info or ask the agent to clarify it, which defeats the object and increases their fees (or the agent's write-off time).

This is basically why we have an agent-only SA portal. By all means open up the PTA to agent view but encouraging clients to use it is, frankly, wrong-headed at best and downright dangerous at worst.

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By PMHHPH
05th Jun 2019 10:41

Many clients don't want to know - they pay us to do this for them.
Others are not happy or able to "engage digitally" so again would need us to be able to access these facilities.
The exclusion of agents from the facilities of the PTA is creating a two class system of taxpayers, to the detriment of HMRC.

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to PMHHPH
05th Jun 2019 10:48

I would go further - many clients are so appalled with the duplicitous mendacity of HMRC that they actively seek ways NOT to engage with them directly, digitally, verbally or otherwise.
Every day they see folk getting screwed around because of trivial/minor errors, usually induced by HMRC's abyssmal and misleading advisements - whereas when HMRC err "its just a mistake, sorry you're homeless and bankrupt as a result".
BTW - no point in checking your Pensions stuff in this system as there is a very strong liklihood that their information is wrong - always get them to produce a paper estimate.

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to dgilmour51
07th Jun 2019 13:11

Many years ago, I worked on a massive IT project which used the latest all bells and whistles IBM mainframe digital business computers.

After 6 months of blood sweat and tears and doubling may salary on overtime, the group of us cynics realised at last, we knew what IBM stood for!

It's Better Manually!

Many years back we were all told by gushing PR puffs, that "The Paperless Office was NOW!"

Why is it, therefore, I am deluged with (Mainly useless) hordes of papers, please?

I agree with the poster: demand critical information IN HARD COPY BLACK AND WHITE!

Since when it is rubbish, you have a big stick to beat the fools over the head with!

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to PMHHPH
05th Jun 2019 12:46

PMHHPH wrote:

Many clients don't want to know - they pay us to do this for them.


Exactly! As HMRC introduce new systems (eg Agent Services Account), they need to be told that, whilst some clients are willing (or at least not totally unwilling) to use a PTA/BTA, many others don't have the time or ability to understand what they need to do, so they appoint an expert (an accountant) to do it for them. Forcing such clients to log into HMRC portals and actively preventing agents from accessing all of the same information, is counter-productive and totally ignores the reality of how many taxpayers work.

I have been told by a number of HMRC staff that taxpayers must take their responsibilities seriously. I respond that they take it so seriously that they appoint me to do it for them!

And what about the captains of industry and multi-millionaire footballers and pop stars? Do they expect Richard Branson, David Beckham and Adele to create a PTA and log into it from time to time, or do they expect them to concentrate on what they do best (generating billions for the UK economy in the process) and hire teams of accountants to handle these complexities on their behalf? If HMRC think it wrong for taxpayers to delegate access to their data to expert advisers, then they are living in a fantasy world.
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05th Jun 2019 11:08

I would add that the last time one of my clients signed up at my suggestion he received a call at 8pm when he was with friends at a dinner. As HMRC dont use phone numbers which show who is calliing the call was answered only to be told that the payment that HMRC had lost had been found.

In my client's own words very embarrassing and intrusive.

As others have said HMRC needs to get its house in order before agents will recommend.

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By wyoming
05th Jun 2019 11:19

I try to encourage clients to set up (and use) a PTA but it's a hard sell with many of them. They see interaction with HMRC as being something that they pay us to look after on their behalf.

Regarding the state pension forecast, I think these should be provided with a "health warning" as all the basic forecast does is look at the number of "qualifying years" and then applies the relevant proportion (e.g. 20/35) to the current "full" pension. There is no mention of the pension reductions that will apply to those whose NI records include years when they contracted-out of SERPS/S2P. The only way to get a complete forecast is still by applying to the NI office as before.

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to wyoming
05th Jun 2019 11:33

I so agree. HMRC are seriously alienating the Accountants and I feel we are the ones keeping things afloat.

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05th Jun 2019 11:30

PTA - what a joke - Last year I took a one off 10K pension payment that was later cancelled so HMRC computers took the annual payment of 10k multiplied it by 52 weeks giving me an income of £520,000 plus my business profits and worked out a code on that . I sent an online form stating the error received a random call to say that had no idea what I was talking about in my email and when I looked back on line the entry had been corrected. So my fellow Accountants if that we are dealing with , you tell me .

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By raycad
to nodrogbir
05th Jun 2019 18:23

To Nodrogbir (RIB Gordon??)

I had a similar situation to the one you've described with a one-off withdrawal on my own SIPP in April. I looked at my PTA and, frankly it was unintelligible. There's stuff on there about estimated income and tax liability for the year, RTI info held, estimated CY underpayment and the tax code itself, but no actual P2 breakdown!! I had to get that from my own SA record.

I didn't even bother to send the online form - I just phoned the general helpline and put up with the dire recorded so-called music (which hasn't changed in a decade) until a real person answered. My code was quickly put right with a rather wearied attitude, as in "Lord Help Me, another one of those!"

I have 50 years experience of tax both inside and outside the Revenue and if I find the PTA confusing my clients have got absolutely no chance. In fact I positively discourage them from using the system as the potential for a "DIY" disaster is enormous. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing!

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By Ammie
05th Jun 2019 12:24

I often wonder when HMRC will wake up to the real world.

Agents provide a significant amount of the compliance needs of taxpayers and know nearly if not everything about their clients, but are dissuaded from setting up a PTA and handing access and control over, why? Can someone explain it to me because I have missed something major here.

Rightly or wrongly I have been granted access to PTAs where the client is totally confused with the information and what some of it means, in order to be able explain what they are looking at. Part of this arising from lack of interest or time from the taxpayer.

There is clearly a mission to make taxpayers independent and more in control, but with it the ensuing mess in more than a few cases will set the mission back. Agents accessibility may be and should be a useful aid to its effectiveness.

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to Ammie
05th Jun 2019 13:31

They have no idea what we do , they don’t live in the real world and think we all have unlimited resources . As they appear to be above the law they do as they wish and answer to no one !

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05th Jun 2019 15:10

An interesting article, however I am not aware of a single client of my practices who has followed suggestions of doing so, the underlying feedback being along the lines that our files will hold all the information necessary and isn't it part of the firm's business and charging structure to hold and maintain this information? Sorry, don't see this happening except for the few folks who do their own tax (wrongly?) themselves, get in a mess and take us on to resolve it. Part of Making Tax Diabolical known as MTD? How many other practices have had various clients first 2018 19 payments on account returned back into client account? We've had loads especially the bigger ones over 30k and then have to explain to both HMRC and the client!

Roll on retirement!

Frustrated of London

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to P genender
05th Jun 2019 17:41

More post like this would help all accountants . Sadly they need the money to pay for flash cars and school fees so let’s fleece the clients using Mtd as an excuse !

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05th Jun 2019 21:48

If a clients adds me as a user to their BTA what is the issue?

My agent account does not permit me to view the VAT account. I find it helpful to check the liabilities and payments when preparing accounts.

If a client wishes me to deal with PAYE matter e.g. pay PAYE through a Direct Debit. I cannot do that as an agent

etc. etc. If I was an internal accountant, I'd be set up as a user. Why not as an external accountant?

I note that now my clients have signed up for MTD for VAT that I've lost access to their VAT certificate and the ability to change their details. I spoke with a HMRC MTD expert this afternoon and he was not aware of how many things had move/disappeared with the MTD 'upgrade'

Even with the BTA the functionality has gone.

Why do the 'professional bodies' have so much trouble with a professional accountant/agent helping their clients. Clients do not want to deal with all this rubbish and admin. That is why they pay me.

As an agent, HMRC will do and provide almost anything that I ask for. After all, we have the same ability to file with HMRC and write to them just like a client does.

So, why cannot we hold a username and password (as a separate user ) and have access to their BTA and do everything quicker. Where is the fraud, deception or criminal issue?

Having digital access is so much quicker and efficient. Why would I write a letter, post it, wait 3 months for a reply when I can change an address, VAT quarter end, change of address etc immediately.

Let us be very honest. If accountants / tax agents stopped working with HMRC then the tax system would simply collapse. They need us. Why do they not treat us with honesty and fairness?

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to paulinleeds
06th Jun 2019 00:28

Because not all Accountant act with integrity . Lots of rouge accountants about that are not even AML registered I would guess .As with many things in this modern world a corrupt few make life more difficult for the good people . Over the passage of time more and more corruption will come into play and the corruption is a result of modern technology and lack of human interaction from Hmrc . I will be interested to see what happens in the future .

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06th Jun 2019 20:40

"there are already many services that individuals can access via their PTA" - but couldn't they could do all of this before PTAs existed?

I thought that the PTA was going to, for the first time, show what was being reported to HMRC by third parties - but this, indeed all non-PAYE income, seems to be sporadically reported or - even worse - to be completely imaginary. As some third parties acknowledge that they are, and will continue, to mis-report such data to HMRC then, as the song goes:

"There may be trouble ahead"

SNAFU !

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