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HMRC: More than half of agents log in to client online accounts

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A study has found that 58% of agents log into their clients’ online accounts in an effort to get more accurate data. Respondents to the survey also called for a secure email link through which to communicate with HMRC, greater access to client data and a single sign-in portal.

1st Mar 2023
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Despite guidance from professional bodies that members should avoid using clients’ personal access credentials to HMRC’s online systems, a survey commissioned by the tax authority has found that 58% of agents admit to signing into their clients’ online accounts at least occasionally, with 16% of respondents stating they sign in “frequently”.

Answering the question, “In order to have better visibility of client data some agents log on to their clients’ government gateway accounts. Is this something you ever do?” only 41% of those surveyed said this was something they “never” do.

HMRC graphic
HMRC

Commentary accompanying the research stated this suggests that current HMRC digital services for agents “may not sufficiently meet agents’ needs to access client data”.

The research highlighted that having equal access to information clients receive from their personal tax account (PTA) was both “desirable and necessary” to be able to conduct client services. As agents felt they were not getting equal access to this information, some were logging in to their clients’ accounts to see it or asking clients to share screenshots of information in their accounts.

The report noted that those using clients’ accounts more frequently tended to be semi-retired, unaffiliated agents, with a small client portfolio and who do not use either the Agent Services Account (ASA) or the Online Services for Agents Account (OSAA).

Better understanding of agents

The independent survey, entitled Research with tax agents to explore experiences of HMRC's digital services, was commissioned to give the tax authority a better understanding of agent business models: how they interact with HMRC’s digital services, how they seek to support, and the services they would like HMRC to offer.

Conducted between November 2021 and May 2022, the survey’s 870 participants were predominantly drawn from accounting firms. Bookkeeping firms, payroll bureaux and other consultants were also quizzed as part of the research.

In-depth discussions with agents conducted as part of the research drew a mixed response to HMRC’s overall performance, with many taking a pragmatic view to working with the tax authority. A number of agents acknowledged that the Revenue has “a job to do under difficult circumstances,” and praised HMRC for its response during Covid. However, positive feedback was mixed with frustration in several key areas.

ASA vs OSAA

One aspect that drew particular ire from the agent community was the requirement for two separate agent online accounts with different login details: ASA, through which agents manage VAT details, report clients’ capital gains tax on UK property, register a client’s estate or register a trust as an agent, and the OSAA which covers services including self assessment, corporation tax, PAYE and the construction industry scheme.

Most agents surveyed stated they used both ASA and OSAA accounts (75%). The OSAA had slightly more users (85%) than the ASA (79%), while only 11% of agents said they used neither agent account.

HMRC graphic
HMRC

The ASA received more criticism from agents, with the research report speculating that this may be because “the ASA came second to the established OSAA and was felt to come without a clear rationale for being separate. In comparison, the OSAA was more familiar to agents, and some felt more confident with it having used it for longer.”

The report quoted snippets of conversations the research team had with agents about the two-login issue, which include:

  • “It doesn’t cause particular problems having separate accounts but doesn’t really make sense… I don’t really understand why they’re separate accounts because you’d think once you’re an agent you’d just have one.”
  • “We didn’t know which account to sign into and the name of the services is too similar. Then we had to get new logins… you have to ask why you’d have two logins for agent services. It shouts that the system isn’t finished yet.”
  • “Can you imagine if Amazon said we had to use different accounts for different things?”

Email communication top of the list

The research also included a laundry list of suggested improvements for HMRC’s digital offerings. Top of the pile is a secure email link to communicate with HMRC, with 81% of respondents stating that this would have “a significant positive impact” on dealing with HMRC on behalf of clients.

“Agents had experienced using these email links when contacting customer services from other services, such as retailers, and found them beneficial as they track communications and provide a reference of conversations that can later be referred to,” stated the report. “Furthermore, secure email links allow customers to avoid telephone helpline waiting times, as well as the risk of repeat phone calls to resolve an issue.”

Agent feedback to the researchers quoted in the report included:

  • “We want to be able to email with attachments, not to have to print everything off. A simple email would speed up the whole process.”
  • “Emailing would save a lot of frustration. I spend 25 minutes waiting on the phone line and then they can’t help.”

Other suggested improvements in the report were greater transparency of client information, including access to clients’ PTA details, P60 information and VAT payments, a single client dashboard or list from within the ASA (a feature already available in the OSAA), and faster updates to online data within HMRC accounts.

While the research highlighted plenty of useful information and feedback from agents, it stopped short of outlining whether any of the suggestions were likely to be adopted by HMRC, and did not refer to any further actions that may be taken as a result of the report.

You can read the full report here: Research with tax agents to explore experiences of HMRC’s digital service.

Replies (39)

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By More unearned luck
01st Mar 2023 22:14

"The ASA received more criticism from agents, with the research report speculating that this may be because “the ASA came second to the established OSAA and was felt to come without a clear rationale for being separate. In comparison, the OSAA was more familiar to agents, and some felt more confident with it having used it for longer.”

No, the ASA is not as user friendly a the older system, for example there is no list of clients and you need to know the relevant ref no. For example if you haven't keep a handy note of the clients CGT return ref no you will have difficulty in reporting a second gain.

"The research also included a laundry list of suggested improvements for HMRC’s digital offerings. Top of the pile is a secure email link to communicate with HMRC, with 81% of respondents stating that this would have “a significant positive impact” on dealing with HMRC on behalf of clients."

These respondents seem to have a touching faith in HMRC's ability to answer emails in a timely manner and in any replies coming from HMRC staff who know their onions.

Thanks (7)
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By Hugo Fair
01st Mar 2023 23:11

"a survey commissioned by the tax authority" should not be confused with a broad satisfaction survey commissioned by, say, the PAC.

And in other news ...

A shortage of toilet-paper has been reported by major retailers ... and large groups of bears all seem to be heading for the woods!

Thanks (3)
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By Open all hours
02nd Mar 2023 02:20

Never done it but clients tend to appoint agents to act on their behalf and are bemused by the attitude of HMRC who seek to prevent this.
Surely a client is allowed to authorise whatever is legal to help in the smooth administration of their affairs?

Thanks (12)
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By JustAnotherUser
02nd Mar 2023 08:21

why isn't all information available by API?
Some is, so third parties can connect.
Some can come from HMRC own app... but not available to third parties..
Some isn't
This is a simple service issue they could easily fix and reduce support calls on.

Thanks (8)
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By snickersinatwix
02nd Mar 2023 10:20

we do it rarely, and obviously with client's full knowledge as they have to give us the access code, when we can't find the info we need from our own portal.
Why can't we see what the client can see on our own portal?

Thanks (5)
Replying to snickersinatwix:
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By jvenegas16
06th Mar 2023 23:33

I totally agree with that. We should be able to see payments, submissions, liabilities, etc on VAT, CT, as we do for SA and PAYE

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By AndrewV12
02nd Mar 2023 10:23

'Other suggested improvements in the report were greater transparency of client information, including access to clients’ PTA details, P60 information and VAT payments, a single client dashboard or list from within the ASA (a feature already available in the OSAA), and faster updates to online data within HMRC accounts.'

Is this really to much to ask from HMRC, they want the clients to use personal accounts, sadly not accountants. Also how about CIS tax deducted, why does this have to be such a secret.

Thanks (9)
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By D Rixson
02nd Mar 2023 10:28

It is frustrating that agents don't have the same functionality to see data or make changes regarding a clients personal tax affairs. Three recent phone calls to HMRC just to make changes to PAYE codes. Clients expect agents to be able to do this easily. The fact that NI record is available to individuals but not agents is unacceptable. Why not link NI & tax when NI became part of the SA return?

Thanks (4)
Replying to D Rixson:
Chris M
By mr. mischief
02nd Mar 2023 22:29

I don't bother with that. In the numerous cases where HMRC issue a wrong code I just ignore it and use the right one, having discussed the person's circumstances and identified the blunder HMRC have made. Life's too short to keep phoning people who can't be bothered to staff phone lines properly.

Thanks (3)
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By agknight
02nd Mar 2023 10:30

HMRC service is so poor in all aspects, no survey is needed to ascertain required improvements, just common sense. Alas it shows the strangulation of things these days, needing delayed research to find out the obvious.

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Tornado
By Tornado
02nd Mar 2023 10:39

Email communication top of the list

It seems incredible that for an Authority that has aspirations to be a world leader in Tax Administration, HMRC has no universal way for people to communicate with them via email.

The reason for this seems clear to me that emails require almost immediate attention which most of us in business do day in day out, but HMRC has no culture for acting that quickly and unless that culture is changed significantly, they will individually and as a body, never be able to deal efficiently with email communication.

I have been communicating with some clients by email for over 20 years and it works well, which is one of the reasons why we are many times more efficient that HMRC will ever be.

Thanks (10)
Replying to Tornado:
Morph
By kevinringer
02nd Mar 2023 10:54

It is astonishing that the "most digitally advanced tax authority in the world" will only communicate using Victorian technology. HMRC did have an email pilot which ran for about 8 years. I took part in the pilot and it worked really well. Then HMRC suddenly dropped it.

HMRC sometimes cites GDPR/confidentiality for not using email. Ok, if this is a genuine reason and not merely an excuse, HMRC should follow the banks' examples. The banks don't like sending confidential information by email. Instead, bank customers will receive an email notifying them they have a message in the bank's secure messaging facility, the customer logs into their online banking which is very secure, and reads the message. HMRC could do the same for agents: we log into our agent portal and generate a secure message, the messaging facility would list all messages sent and would state the current state of progress and an estimated date for actioning by HMRC.

Thanks (10)
Replying to Tornado:
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By ABC12
02nd Mar 2023 13:21

Contrast that with the Irish tax authority. I can email them to enquire about a client's RCT (their equivalent of CIS) claim matters, just put the details in my email and get an answer within an hour every time

Thanks (4)
Replying to ABC12:
Chris M
By mr. mischief
02nd Mar 2023 22:31

Totally agree. Some years back I had a tricky Irish VAT issue, amount involved €200k depending on whether we needed to apply Irish VAT or not. Within 2 days i had an e-mail opinion from Irish VAT confirming my view that we did not.

The very idea that HMRC would ever act so quickly and professionally is just a complete joke.

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Morph
By kevinringer
02nd Mar 2023 10:46

The solution is simple: give agents access to the full PTA/BTA. We've been asking for it for many years. HMRC often sites GDPR as an excuse, but it is merely an excuse and not a reason.

Thanks (9)
Replying to kevinringer:
By Duggimon
02nd Mar 2023 10:51

GDPR concerns completely disappear once specific informed authorisation is given, it's such a weak excuse and is clearly trotted out in the hope the person being told it doesn't know what's in the GDPR.

Thanks (8)
Replying to kevinringer:
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By johnjenkins
02nd Mar 2023 13:44

That's what Agent strategy was supposed to do. Anything that gives us access to information is not accepted by HMRC. Their view is that all the information required can be gleaned from your client.

Thanks (2)
Replying to johnjenkins:
Morph
By kevinringer
02nd Mar 2023 14:11

Agent Strategy: announced in February 2012 to launch in April 2012 and give us ability to amend PAYE codes online, receive a UTR immediately we register a client for SA, and self-authorise as agents for a client. Fast forward 11 years and none of this has been delivered and in fact HMRC have gone the other way requiring us to get new authorisation for every new HMRC regime.

Thanks (0)
Replying to kevinringer:
Tornado
By Tornado
02nd Mar 2023 14:28

"Agent Strategy: announced in February 2012 to launch in April 2012 and give us ability to amend PAYE codes online, receive a UTR immediately we register a client for SA, and self-authorise as agents for a client. Fast forward 11 years and none of this has been delivered and in fact HMRC have gone the other way requiring us to get new authorisation for every new HMRC regime."

Basically what you are saying is that we cannot trust anything that HMRC tell us.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Tornado:
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By johnjenkins
02nd Mar 2023 15:19

You don't have to say it. It's there for all to see. Can we have a vote of "no confidence?" Unfortunately HMRC has become so inept that not only do we not believe them, we don't trust them nor do we want to deal with them. There was a time when I actually enjoyed our seminars with the "invited" local district inspector or specialist.

Thanks (1)
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By GDavidson
02nd Mar 2023 10:48

To be honest I don't understand how the other 42% do their jobs. Surely if a client gives you permission to access his account that is all that is required. If he changes his mind he can change his password in two minutes or not give him the phone code?

Thanks (3)
Replying to GDavidson:
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By ABC12
02nd Mar 2023 13:22

Managed over 12 years without once needing to log in as someone I am not.

Thanks (3)
By Duggimon
02nd Mar 2023 10:50

Current HMRC digital services for agents definitely do not sufficiently meet agents' needs to access client data - let's remove any ambiguity there.

If I could access everything I need for my clients without HMRC "losing" the authorisations randomly, or pointlessly restricting the access to data, or just making it stupidly hard to access the client in the first place as per the new ASA, I would never need to log in to client's gateway accounts.

As it is, I still do, not often but regularly. I do it with the client's full knowledge and cooperation, either with them on the phone or in the office in person, because there is no way for me to either see what I need or do what I must as an agent.

Why are there two levels of access and two sets of information? Just give us the same access as clients once they've authorised it.

Thanks (3)
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By JD
02nd Mar 2023 11:01

If you cannot get sensible answers from somebody who knows what they are doing on the phone, and HMRC are pushing everybody to digital services, which clients simply do not understand and agents find clunky, time consuming and filled with nonsense processes, then clearly to do the job effectively work arounds will be found.

HMRC, try keeping it simple, remove barriers rather than create them, stop wasting fortunes of our money on pet projects like MTD, and employ enough people to answer the B'''dy phones.

Thanks (11)
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By indomitable
02nd Mar 2023 11:57

Another survey to confirm the bl**** obvious.

The reason is also obvious. HMRC's IT systems are not FIT FOR PURPOSE.

Take one simple example, setting up a 'business tax account' so we can get authorised to file VAT returns. Most clients cannot do this because HMRC do not make this easy, its complicated and messy.

Non of these problems will ever get sorted until politicians have the ability to 'sack' civil servants for not getting these issues sorted

This country is falling apart!

Thanks (3)
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By Self-Employed and Happy
02nd Mar 2023 12:32

Many reasons for this

1) We often find a clients PAYE on their log in reads completely different to what ours says for the client on our Portal

2) Personal Tax (again see above)

3) But by far and away the biggest reason is to go in and get information needed to try and get their VAT MTD linked to the new ASA, especially when the old way doesn't work.

I was once told by a HMRC advisor...

"Yes you are typing the right figure in for the clients Box 6 on the last return, but the old way of authorising only works if you use the Box 6 figure from the last return they did PRE-MTD, so go and find the figure from Mar-20"

Currently we try the old school way of getting them authorised on the old system , then copying them across to our ASA account using the "copy function", but if we run into issues with the old system then it often leaves us in a black hole, sometimes clients don't even have their own MTD portal (as they've always used an accountants) therefore there is no way to log in as them and accept the invite (the new way) from the ASA.

So you end up spending endless time actually setting up the clients VAT Portal just so you can send the invite, even then you often run into the same problem of linking the VAT to the newly created portal because they require information they might not have to hand.

Overall its an absolute [***] [***] show, HMRC are willfully blocking the input of accountants yet are more than happy for accountants to spend their time to sort our their mess, its a joke.

We've put our prices for VAT registration alone up to £150, dealing with HMRC is the worst it has ever been in terms of communication, ease of use, clarity and function, it needs gutting and starting again with accountants not civil servants.

Thanks (3)
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By Self-Employed and Happy
02nd Mar 2023 12:37

Duplicate post

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By Self-Employed and Happy
02nd Mar 2023 12:36

My post looks like it has been deleted for 2 words that were COMPLETELY starred out...(you can guess why).

So there was no need to delete unless some home truths about HMRC are too much for AW to take?

Thanks (1)
Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
Morph
By kevinringer
02nd Mar 2023 12:47

As a contributor to this thread, AWeb emailed me to say that you'd posted. The email states the text of the post. But the entire post has now vanished.

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Replying to kevinringer:
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By Hugo Fair
02nd Mar 2023 13:19

Now that's the kind of joined-up thinking with which HMRC can get on board!

Publish the contents of a post (to potentially multiple) unknown people - not you Kevin but all the anon/avatar lot - and *then* review it for potential censorship!

Thanks (2)
Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
me
By Will Cole
02nd Mar 2023 13:18

Hi self-employed, your post wasn't deleted, it was just picked up in the automated spam filter . I have nipped into the spam page and reversed this - apologies. Any further issues, give me a shout

Thanks (7)
Replying to Will Cole:
Tom Herbert
By Tom Herbert
02nd Mar 2023 13:49

And you didn't even need to call the dedicated AccountingWEB member line and hold for an hour to get your comment approved ;-)

Thanks (5)
Replying to TomHerbert:
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By johnjenkins
03rd Mar 2023 09:52

Tom you've got a sense of humour. What are you doing at Aweb?

Thanks (1)
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By carnmores
02nd Mar 2023 14:49

guilty as charged :-) if i could get my new ASA to work it might be different. but I doubt it!

Thanks (0)
Morph
By kevinringer
02nd Mar 2023 14:56

When HMRC switched to online VAT returns 15 years ago, clients needed a BTA to authorise us to submit the VAT returns. I told my clients that they needed a BTA but they all instructed me to create one for them: some were digitally excluded, others were digitally challenged. They had all signed a 64-8 authorising me to handle everything for HMRC for them, and they considered this just another HMRC hoop to jump through. Since then, HMRC has formally granted about half of them exemption from MTD VAT on the grounds of digital exclusion. As they're digitally excluded, HMRC knows they have not created their own BTA, so HMRC knows someone else created it for them. If the client instructs us to do this for them, and we have no choice because HMRC does not give us the functionality, is there really a problem? If HMRC doesn't want us to access the BTA, then HMRC needs to give us the tools including the ability to self-authorise (something HMRC said we would be given way back in 2012).

Thanks (2)
By jon_griffey
02nd Mar 2023 14:58

I think the percentage of those who said 'no, I never do this' would be massively lower were it not a survey from HMRC. The fear being that you could get into trouble with HMRC or your professional body for giving a yes answer. Its like the police doing a survey to ask have you ever committed a crime.

Thanks (5)
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By GHarr497688
02nd Mar 2023 23:37

Reading all the comments across all the digitalisation of HMRC I have this comment:
What an utter mess HMRC have made of MTD and how incompetent they appear. I find nothing that makes me confident with digital services either reading AWEB or using the dreadful systems implemented by HMRC. A disgrace to the taxpayer.

Thanks (3)
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By Mr J Andrews
03rd Mar 2023 15:37

There must be a way that the Powers That Be can make the system more complicated.

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Replying to Mr J Andrews:
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By johnjenkins
06th Mar 2023 09:59

Just wait till the next lot come in and your wish will come true.

Thanks (1)