HMRC online leaves agents in the cold
We all know HMRC wants to make tax digital; every new regulatory system it invents involves another online registration.
Recent examples include:
- Alcohol Wholesalers registration system (AWRS)
- Employment related securities (ERS)
- Payrolling benefits in kind
What irks me about these new systems is that the business or employer is obliged to comply, but it cannot allow its appointed tax agent to complete the registration process on its behalf. HMRC admit that these systems are not designed for use by agents.
The official answer is that HMRC is developing the Agent Online Self Serve (AOSS) as an the way for tax agents to interact with HMRC’s systems. However, it is not clear what AOSS will allow tax agents to do, and when this service will be ready for use by all tax agents.
A pilot of the AOSS system for agents using PAYE services has been running for over a year, and this was extended to other online services (SA, CT and VAT) in December 2015. The 1200 or so tax agents in the AOSS pilot can view the PAYE liabilities and payments of their clients, which is not possible for other tax agents as the Business Tax Dashboard was specifically designed to exclude tax agents. This is also the case for the individual taxpayer version: the Personal Tax Account.
The AOSS pilot is currently limited to tax agents with fewer than 200 clients in each individual online tax service. Toni Clark, head of digital agent engagement with HMRC, explains in her blog that an analysis of tax agent profiles taken from the Government gateway agent IDs indicates that 88% of tax agents have fewer than 200 clients in each tax service.
Larger firms will be offered a range of application programming interfaces (APIs) to interact with HMRC, rather than AOSS. However, AOSS will be extended to tax agents with more than 200 clients eventually.
As Clark says in a letter to tax agents on 11 February 2016 “AOSS is being developed with input from agents to ensure that services best meet agents’ needs. Agents who meet the criteria will be invited to take part in the AOSS private beta service over the coming months.”
Clark’s letter ends with the warning: “You should not try to access personal tax accounts on behalf of a client. Anyone logging in (whether an agent or other person) using another customer's credentials will potentially raise a security alert. Safeguards are built into our systems to protect our customers online and if an alert is triggered, this may impact on the progress of submitting your client's return and delay any repayment due.”