PAYE reforms slammed by finance professionals

Kashflow logo
Gina Dyer
Deputy Editor
Sift Media
Share this content

The government has put forward ideas for an overhaul of the PAYE system, but finance professionals fear the changes could do more harm than good.

The government has released a new discussion document this week putting forward suggestions for reforming the current PAYE system, which has been in place for 66 years.

The new proposals comprise two main elements – the provision of ‘real time’ payroll information and centralised collection of tax and NIC.

Please Login or Register to read the full article

The full article is available to registered members only. To read the rest of this article you’ll need to login or register. Registration is FREE and allows you to view all content, ask questions, comment and much more.


Please login or register to join the discussion.

30th Jul 2010 18:37

Typical response

One has to wonder about the motivation behind those making negative comments. I'd certainly encourage everyone to read the document for themselves before rushing to judgement based on the comments of those with an interest in the status quo. You should certainly read about the potential benefits as AccountingWeb has chosen to produce a very one-sided article.

Remember it is the same profession that have said PAYE is "creaking" and is no longer fit for purpose. Here is an idea for us to engage with and seems to be an opportunity to make representations about how to reform PAYE. The current system has been in place since the 1940s so it is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of us. What an incredible opprotunity to meaningfully contribute to something that could last as long.

Or we could just moan. Say HMRC have never been able to implement IT properly and continue to criticise the current system.


Thanks (0)
01st Aug 2010 03:45

Much merit

I think that the ideas have a lot of merit and are certainly worthy of more consideration. Of course stage 2 - the centralised calculation of deductions could be a recipie for disaster, but in truth I see no real difficulty in implementing stage 1 and then seeing where it leaves us. The arguments put forward for stage 1 are difficult to challenge in terms of improving the current system and removing redundant work - much of which causes additional work to resolve issues which would probably no longer occur.


Thanks (0)
02nd Aug 2010 11:40

The benefits are?

As with any new system, three simple questions:

1. What are the benfits?

2. What are the costs?

3. What are the new problems created?

Whilst techincally I cant see a lot of problems with monthly payroll submissions once its all in place, who exactly benefits and how? I cant see any genuine advanatages for any party in such a system. It smacks of "wouldnt it be nice if" as opposed to "this is going to make a real difference".

So struggling very hard on (1) before we even get to (2) and (3).





Thanks (0)
02nd Aug 2010 11:50

Some merit in stage 1, stage 2 is fantastic nonsense

I can see some arguments for stage 1, though the suggested timescale of April 2012 is, shall we say, "ambitious". It will only work if *everyone* is using it and it does rest on all employers having good reliable internet connections not just once a year for P35/P14 filing, but every time they pay their emplyoees.

The interface for filing data in stage 1 would have to be substantially more complex in the real world than the rather utopian one briefly implied in the HMRC document. All kinds of issues arise for example where filed data might be incomplete when someone first joins, and there would be a need to uniquely and certainly identify people *other* than using their NI number, which isn't always known straight away. There are many hurdles to be overcome to get stage 1 working and supplying any benefit, and payroll software suppliers would be committed to large expense altering their software, which doesn't mesh particularly well with HMRC's drive to get software suppliers to supply small employers for free. (and meshes even worse with the long-term threat to the status of in-house payroll software implied by stage 2, which would prevent stage 1 costs from being amortised)

Don't get me started on stage 2!

Thanks (0)
02nd Aug 2010 11:51

answering my own post

The benefits are supposed to be:

1. Making P45s easier (a minor problem)

2. Making year End Rec Easier (by making you have to do 12 of them! Brilliant!)

3. More accurate payment of benefits

4. Reduce tax credit errors.

(3) and (4) seem to be the nub of the issue, which could no doubt have some genuine impact however I would venture to suggest that fixing tax credits would make more sense than mucking about with PAYE.


Thanks (0)
02nd Aug 2010 11:58

Loads of advantages - for the Overlords

Sooo, there's less opportunity to check whether the deductions are accurate, no doubt correcting errors will be a nightmare and it's a lot of extra bureaucracy for the 'one man fixed salary'-type company AND they get to rape the deductions immediately out of your bank account, with no regard to the company's cash flow.

No mention of rationalising the ludicrous double-taxation (PAYE & NI) regime.

And it will fall over every time two people log on.

It might in fact be a better idea than sliced bread George, but it's gonna be a hard sell, not another stick to beat us with. We've had enough already.






Thanks (0)
By rkdia
02nd Aug 2010 12:09

And if you haven't got a computer?

I have clients that are not computer literate and can't/won't use a computer or the internet.  They are quite capable of calculating monthly deductions the "old fashioned" way and grudgingly accept that they (in practice we) now need to make year end returns on line.  They could not afford the cost of an agent or bureau having to account for their pay on a regular basis so how would they fit in to the proposed system? Or would it be illegal to become an employer if you couldn't use a computer?

Thanks (0)
02nd Aug 2010 12:13

First step first

 I agree with Nick. FIRST step unify PAYE & NIC. That will also make the other proposals easier to implement.

Thanks (0)
02nd Aug 2010 12:27

The way to make things simpler, is to make things simpler

Yes, Even though my business is based on supplying payroll software (declaring my interest in this) that everyone needs because the calculations and requirements are so complex I'm right alongside anyone who wants to propose simplifications to the PAYE/NI/Sxp/Attachments/Pensions system to make life easier for employers.

If HMRC/Osborne want to reduce the burden on employers the way to do that is to make the system simpler. It is not to outsource the complexity back to HMRC. There is no ground whatsoever to suppose that a vast system operated by HMRC would end up being more efficient or less expensive for employers than the individual systems supplied by numerous competing suppliers to employers. On the contrary there are numerous precedents for centralised government IT systems being vastly more expensive (and worse) than commercial alternatives supplied to individual users.

Maybe HMRC and the treasury want this to control benefits better. If so they should come clean and not pretend that it is anything to do with making life easier for employers, when it is pretty much a given that both stage 1 and stage 2 will make life harder for employers.

Thanks (0)
02nd Aug 2010 12:47

It's Broken, please send repair team...

Having been in practice for many years, there is one thing I'd never let the Revenue do, and that's calculate anything.  As for giving them any opportunity to direct debit anything out of any bank account, anyone who does this must be mad.

Given the usual farce over systems designed by committee and overseen by civil servants who have little or no concept of cost, budget, efficiency or anything else that the real world has to cope with, I wouldn't hold out much hope of this one functioning well.

The recent switch over to the new PAYE system yielded how many incorrect code numbers being issued?

Now imagine the Revenue having the ability to direct debit out of your bank account the amount they think is due on your wages-given the number of errors currently made, how many businesses would go bust as a result of incorrect direct debits, people made bankrupt, we all know the Revenue are rabid at chasing money but getting it back is a lot more difficult!

Not to mention the thousands of small businesses who don't want to or can't use this form of banking (BACS payments cost money).

Seems like another 'think tank' idea where the members of the think tank are either from large businesses or career civil servants who have no idea what it's like to run a business.

Here's a much better idea- start sacking some of the 6m people now employed by various government/local bodies (and get rid of the ridiculous amounts they can claim as one in the real world pays that sort of money), repeal some of the thousands of laws created by Labour which created non-productive jobs, and get more people actually doing real jobs and creating real wealth rather than trying to stop the rest of us from doing it.  High time people started taking responsibility for their actions and making decisions in this country, rather than farming everything out to committess and having endless costly enquiries!

So back to the main topic- no.  Fix the exisiting system first, train the staff better (CPD for Revenue staff, and horror of horrors how about making them sit an exam to prove they know taxes like we in the profession do) and thinsg would run a lot smoother.  Bring back the idea to civil servants and public servants generally that just like in the private sector, if you're rubbish you get fired, if you're efficient, save money, make real savings then you get rewarded.


Hmm, seems I'm in 'standing for public office but they would never vote for me' mode.

Thanks (0)
By rkdia
02nd Aug 2010 12:49

Against the trend?

I got the impression we had a Government keen to reduce public spending and cut departmental budgets, outsourcing where necessary.  PAYE is almost by definition the ultimate in outsourcing - making employers responsible for their employees tax bills.  Surely the cost of successfully building and implementing such a system AND a sufficiently large support department to deal with the likely vast number of queries, corrections and other adjustments would be prohibitive in these (post?) recessionary times, flying in the face of all we have heard?

Thanks (0)
By cfield
02nd Aug 2010 13:34

This sounds like another disaster in the making!

The idea of allowing HMRC to determine how much money goes into people's bank accounts based on information in a central data base updated by employers has all the hallmarks of a disaster in the making. Leaving aside the fact that errors will be inevitably be made on all sides and take ages to resolve, is it really right to allow an organ of the state to directly control how much money you get from your employer? It is the thin edge of a very nasty wedge in my view. It won't be long before they start making all sorts of deductions as they see fit and not just as advised by your employer.

There seem to be 2 main drivers here. One is cashflow and the other is tax credits/state benefits. Obviously they want to speed up PAYE cashflows, but the best way of doing this is more efficient credit control. Imposing penalties on late monthly payments was a good move as the system was widely abused for years and PAYE was often used as a free source of short term credit by companies with cashflow problems. Perhaps certain football clubs wouldn't have ended up so deep in the mire if this system had been in place before.

The second issue concerning tax credits is more contentious. If they want to stop people over-claiming and having to refund the money later, there are better ways of doing it than changing the whole PAYE system. For a start, they could restrict tax credits to 50% of the amount claimed each year and pay the balance next year once their actual income is known. That would stop the ridiculous situation where people are allowed to guess what their income will be and any tax credits over-claimed due to a shortfall in their estimated income of up to £5k is simply ignored. The previous threshold of £25k was a joke and positively encouraged fraud and low estimates.  True, this would cause new claimants hardship for a year, but people managed to make do without tax credits for decades before Gordon Brown decided they were such a great idea, so I'm sure they could survive on 50% for a short time.

The other thing they could do is  demand payslips from people claiming tax credits every 3-6 months so they can check if their estimated income is right as they go along. No need to make life complicated for everyone else. Tax credits are nothing to do with tax, so let's stop pretending they are. They are state benefits, pure and simple. Therefore the burden of running that system should fall on the shoulders of those claiming and those responsible for monitoring it, not on the millions of employers and employees who don't claim and have nothing to do with it.


Thanks (0)
02nd Aug 2010 13:53

Centralised calculation would be a nightmare!

As someone who has contributed to designing and implemented these systems the idea of centralised calculation seems utterly mad. Think of the system loads at the end of each month and think of the consequences of a system outage or failure; no one in the country can be paid due to some central system problem! And of course, not everyone has a ready and reliable Internet connection.

The idea of spreading reporting, however, seems excellent. It's always struck me as odd that throughout the year businesses pay what could be 'any old amount' for PAYE & NIC to HMRC and only well after the year end is there a big reckoning to see if the right amounts were paid. Contrast this with VAT where there is regular declaration of amounts and payment of that final amount; seems a more logical approach.

Also, the annual PYE filing causes horrendous system issues as 'almost everyone' wants to file at the last minute meaning huge system capacity is required to ensure service for these few days or hours. Not a very effective use of equipment.

Thanks (0)
02nd Aug 2010 15:41

Improving the operation of Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

Before posting a comment on this complex topic, I thought it best to read the discussion document.

I now confess that I haven't because at 2.1 of the Executive Summary (BTW, what's wrong with Summary) it reads:-


The Government is committed to improving the competitiveness of the UK’s tax system.

This sentence explains most of what has gone wrong with the UK's tax system. The other primary contributory factor is the Government's  choice of software developers. 

I sincerely hope that enough influental bodies have the time to respond in full to the document, outlining what is abundantly clear to anyone with both experience of electronically paying employees and complying with PAYE regulations and,  an iota of commonsense, ie that this has as much chance of improving efficiency as the last Construction Industry Scheme and Tax Credits systems.

Thanks (0)
02nd Aug 2010 16:55

PAYE Changes

It would seem that those who have been the most vociferous in complaining about PAYE are now complaining about and review or changes?

Just imagine, Employers are required to pay an agreed amount to their Employees. They are no longer required to have any correspondence (electronic or otherwise) with HMRC. They are no longer required to have the slightest interest in the Tax liability of the said Employee. What is so terrible about this possibility?

Is it the concern of payroll software developers what taxation should be suffered by various Individuals, or to concern themselves with repayments of students loans, or ensure that they are up to date on the book price of every car in the UK, along with any and all possible accessories? Is this the concern of those few Payroll Representatives, who seem to be very much self appointed?

Nearly 50% of the PAYE population has not had their liability to Tax reviewed by HMRC - the famous Open Case situation. Lesley Strathie advises us all that there are "millions of unmatched items" of National Insurance Contributions, which means that there may well be a lot of folk who will not get the full benefit when they retire, at whatever age. Is there a huge outcry about this? No, I'm afraid not.

Imagine a world where payroll was siilar to the processing of Invoices - check that they are valid and due then record and pay. Wouldn't that be a much simpler life?

Pay As You Earn - Perhaps the clue is in the use of the word "YOU" and that is why the system was not called Pay As Your Employer Makes Payment To You.

PAYE or PAYEMPTY, I like the first option.

Thanks (0)
By ringi
02nd Aug 2010 17:16

Lets look at this another way….

At present when a person that is on benefits gets a job, they can be worse off for weeks due to the time it takes for the tax credit to be worked out and paid.   Likewise when they lose the job, it takes weeks for them to get the benefits back.  This gets a lot worse when the person does not have a fix wage but is just called in for a shift when needed possibility by more than one employer.

If we want a benefit system that makes it worthwhile for someone to work, we need a system that can cope with all this.  The only way I know of doing this is to have a fast dataflow from the employer to the benefit system.

Centralized calculating of tax save the need to issue a new tax code every week when an employee has more than one job with no fixed hours.

I don’t see why a small employee would object to typing each wage into the HRMC web site each month and deducting the tax and NI that HRMC says he should.  It will be as quick as using tax tables.

Thanks (0)
By ringi
02nd Aug 2010 17:29

There is another option…

(Image for a minutes that the IT system can be written to make this work - the software will be a lot smaller than the current system as the processing will all be done in one place.  Now imagine we can find a way to introduce this without too match risk.  Remember that all wages are paged var BACS that is a centre IT system that does not fail often, so central IT system can be made to work.)

The employer just pays the employee’s wages to the HMRC into an account identified by the employee’s NI number.  HRMC then deducts the tax/NI and pays the rest into the employer’s bank account.

This would be great if it worked.  Very little work for the employer,  HMRC will always have up-to-date information, the employees will also be tax correctly in real time.

All benefits in kind will have to be done var the payrole to make this work (or the tax paid by the employer) and it will take great vision.  But let not lose sight of how much admin both for employers and HMRC will be saved if they was done well!

Thanks (0)
02nd Aug 2010 20:14

PAYE Consultation

Lets all be quite clear about roles and responsibilities and in my opinion they are as follows:

The Employer or Payroll Department make sure an agreed amount of money is paid over to an Employee. This is PayrollHMRC make sure that each Individual pays the amount of Tax and NI that they are due. This is what PAYE is about.

The length of time it takes for HMRC to sort things out or the way in which HMRC get the Tax and NI from an Individual is not therefore the concern of "the Employer".

We should also remember that when PAYE was introduced there were a vociferous few who had earned income and quite liked making two annual payments to settle their liability. They earned interest on their deposits. However the Government saw that by imposing legislation on Employers, funding would flow into Treasury coffers at a much better rate.

Now in 2010 we could be in the situation where the removal of an Employer from the Tax & NI calculation area will similarly improve Treasury funding.

A reduction in the legislative impositions should not be seen as a threat, should it? We can still vote for the party that promises the lowest direct and indirect taxation!!

Thanks (0)
03rd Aug 2010 07:21

PAYE review


I’m surprised that nobody seems to be making the connection that if the tapering of universal out of work benefit is going to work and therefore the scrapping of the £25K disregard then the submission of real time earnings info has to be part of that. My worry is that this will overshadow any considered implementation timescale and there will be a headlong rush to April 2012 for phase one in order to ‘save’ the predicted billions in the welfare budget from fraud and overpayment. I think real time could work but I agree with Lesley it must be properly resourced and considered. Phase two is more of a challenge but I do want to be part of the discussions as this is a key moment for the payroll profession to step out of the shadows and be part of the future of the tax system

Kate Upcraft

PAYE writer and lecturer

Thanks (0)
03rd Aug 2010 09:33

Phase 1 vs Phase 2

Reading through the comments I think that there are few here who would deny that phase 1 is possible in the medium term and could yield some benefits.

I think you'd be hard pressed, however, to find a single payroll software professional who thinks that to achieve phase 1 by April 2012 is anything other than purest fantasy. April 2013 would be a rush job, by the standards of goverment IT projects. Don't forget that this requirement is proposed against a background of major changes in NI calculation routines in April 2011, and the introduction of new pension scheme requirements for employers, also in April 2012.

Phase 1 alone will involve HMRC in substantial upfront spending. Hundreds of millions as an absolute minimum. HMRC would be continuously processing as much data as they currently process during the May rush to file P35/P14.

The more I think about it, phase 2, paradoxically, could sink phase 1. HMRC's own document suggests that employer payroll processing costs will fall by about 70% resulting from the introduction of phase 2. Such a reduction can only come about, in reality, through the complete destruction of (a) the payroll software industry and (b) the payroll bureau industry, so that employer payroll departments will be reduced to calculating the gross and informing HMRC of employee gross pay earned and statutory absences. HMRC would effectively supply a National Payroll System; that is the only realistic way that phase 2 could work. But to make phase 1 work HMRC needs the enthusiastic co-operation of the people whose businesses and jobs would be nationalised by phase 2 (declaring an interest, I'm one of those people).

Thanks (0)
By rkdia
03rd Aug 2010 09:48

IT phobia and more

Re: "I don't see why a small employer would object to typing each wage into HMRC's website..."

I'm afraid you obviously don't deal with that many small employers then.  Strange as it may seem in the 21st century there are still a large number of people who don't use computers or don't trust the internet.  The laws of probablity (and experience) indicate that some of these will be employers.  This is not a good thing but it is the real world we live in.  Some of these will, of course, already outsource their payroll to it-literate professionals, but others restrict outside input to the year end filing, not least to minimise costs. 

Also, there are many more people who sadly do not trust the Government, for whatever reason, and the idea that they would allow HMRC (with its record on IT security) to have direct control over their bank details and even to make payments is laughable.

I would not agree with their view - I actually promote IT solutions where practical and, properly planned and controlled, such a system could bring many benefits as described -  but it is the view of some of my clients and these do need to be taken into account before we get too carried about the wonders of a utopian universal system. 

The risk is that we will face a far-too-long phased adoption process which will make the introduction of on-line year end filing look like a quick fix, or end up with a two-tier system where the technophobic are forced to pay out for a bureau service and the mistrusting duck out of the system completely.


Thanks (0)
03rd Aug 2010 15:10

Stage 1 is fine, Stage 2 there's a lot to be desired

I can fully understand the idea behind RTI being sent to HMRC (along the same lines as VAT returns) however where did the idea about centralising tax calculations come from? Surely the administration of calculating 55m earnings records (over varying periods of pay from weekly to bi-monthly, and some people having more than one pay frequency) will cause more headaches than is necessary.  And with the extra man-power that would be required (tax revenue loss from people that were payrolling to having more employees on the books of Government) will create even more burdening on the Government's finances, whenever (or not) this may be implemented.

The "problems" that are experienced with P45's and P46's depend entirely on the internal systems that companies operate. If all companies were to use them immediately, when required, there would be minimal disruption (with the exception of the usual HMRC record transfers although that, I've found, has improved slightly). There is nothing wrong with them in principle.

Also, the delays in getting through to the HMRC now at year end is excessive. How much more frustrating will it be if they were to have it on a weekly basis, throughout the year with queries about the amount of tax being deducted? Much better to keep that "as is" with employer's being the first point of call and if they can't answer, employees then approaching HMRC.

Thanks (0)
By stefan
04th Aug 2010 11:21

Weekly paid

We're involved in a number of businesses including a payroll bureau so - interest declared.

My wife and son have a coffee shop. 95% of sales are paid for in cash. Staff are paid weekly - in cash. They work variable hours so no two weeks are the same as far as take home pay is concerned.

Cash paid into our bank attracts a charge of 0.53% of the amount paid in so, where possible, we pay suppliers and staff in cash.

Under the proposed system we'll lose over half a percent of wages paid as we'd have to pay the money into our bank and then let HMRC take it back out again so a negative experience for the business.

Staff - instead of the correct amount, paid on the day will have to wait 48 hours(?) for an unknown amount to be paid into a bank account that they don't want.

Progress, eh?

Thanks (0)
04th Aug 2010 15:43

Split HMRC

Phase 1 would seem to mean 12 (or is it 52) PAYE Returns, raising delicious scope for late filiing penalties, a`la CIS.

Presumably a number of Payroll professionals would be employed by HMRC to implement Phase 2


My main objection is that I couldn't trust HMRC to run a bath.   The coal-face staff seem fairly knowledgeable but the organisation needs splitting into several agencies, each competing for 'customers'.



Thanks (0)