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Feeding back to HMRC on the digital tax switch

Sending your feedback to HMRC could help to shape how the new tax proposals are implemented

17 April 2018, at 12:43pm

Now is a good time to look ahead and make plans, and HMRC is doing its bit to assist businesses in that regard. With a raft of announcements in the November Budget, there are a number of proposals that, when implemented, will affect the way a practice runs its tax affairs from 2018. However, with some judicious feedback into HMRC, it may be possible to shape how the proposals are implemented. Experience has shown that when merited, HMRC does listen.

The proposals include a suggestion that penalties for tax paid late should be like a parking fine, and halved for prompt payment, with a 14-day grace period

Take HMRC’s Making Tax Digital (MTD), an initiative under which practices would have been required to report on their affairs, not annually, but quarterly and online with extra workload and costs. Few other than HMRC liked the idea and the outcry led to MTD being watered down; now it’s only VAT which is absolutely guaranteed to be compulsory – from April 2019. However, public criticism hasn’t stopped HMRC moving forward with plans and supporting framework for MTD. It’s going to be a huge shake-up for most – so if you haven’t started planning for MTD yet, you most certainly should.

Compliance penalties 

HMRC has been putting plenty of thought into how to deal with anyone who gets their tax compliance obligations wrong. For several years now there’s been a steady stream of HMRC consultations on what penalties are for, and how HMRC can achieve compliance. 

Points-based penalties 

Based on those consultations and responses, the government is reforming the penalty system for late or missing tax returns; soon there will be a new points-based approach in place. The details are all in a document (see http://bit.ly/2ASN8pU), but in essence, you will start accruing penalties on annual returns after two defaults, for quarterly returns after four defaults, and for monthly returns after five. To reset the score to zero you need to make two, four or six submissions on time for each return type respectively. Your scores run independently for each tax (VAT, PAYE, and Income or Corporation Tax). Alongside this, the government “will also consult on whether to simplify and harmonise penalties and interest due on late payments and repayments”.

Grace periods 

Nothing has yet been costed for any of this while the other measures are still at consultation stage (see http://bit. ly/2iybKgm). But, because they’re still consulting, you can still make a difference by getting in touch with HMRC to make your views known. The proposals include a suggestion that penalties for tax paid late should be like a parking fine, and halved for prompt payment, with a 14-day grace period where no penalty would arise at all. Interest rates would change, and the existing VAT surcharge model would be replaced. But one of the conditions to get a penalty reduced is that if you can’t pay, you will have sought to finalise a ‘time to pay’ arrangement with HMRC; if that can be done within 14 days there will be no penalty; if completed within 28 days, the penalty will be cut by 50%. The professional bodies aren’t convinced that HMRC can meet its side of the bargain to have time to pay arrangements in place within those time frames. 

Operating PAYE 

Moving on, for those with employees, there’s a further planned tweak to the operation of PAYE codes through the Real Time Information (RTI) system.

Since May 2017, you may have noticed an uptick in the number of PAYE codes you’ve been receiving for employees – and perhaps the number of queries from them that you’re having to field as a result. 

This is all a part of the new system of ‘dynamic coding’ (http://bit.ly/2B1XzXU), which aims to use the information that HMRC is gathering from various different sources to estimate an individual’s total annual income, and from that work out what their final tax bill is going to be and adjust things on the fly accordingly. 

However, based on the results so far, the system is struggling with irregular amounts like bonuses, commission or variable pay – let alone dividends, or income from overseas. 

Dynamic coding 

The solution to many of these problems associated with dynamic coding lies not with HMRC or the employer, but with the employee. Like it or not, the easiest way to resolve the issues is for employees to activate their Personal Tax Account (PTA) (see http://bit.ly/1O4EOoo) so that they can check the amounts charged for themselves. 

In principle, of course, it’s a good idea for everyone to know exactly what’s going on with their taxes – what they’re paying, and why. But there’s a balance to be struck here, and quite a few people feel that HMRC has gone too far down the ‘forced engagement’ route.

One of the big advantages of the PAYE tax withholding system, and in particular the tax codes it uses, is that it

Of course, it’s a good idea for everyone to know exactly what’s going on with their taxes – what they’re paying, and why

should save a taxpayer in steady employment on a steady wage having to constantly think about their tax position; it should save them time, let HMRC know what’s going on, and allow the system to collect the right payment at the right time. 

But with the constant fine-tuning of liabilities, HMRC has created a model where employers will be getting code updates far more frequently than they previously might have, and that’s something which in the short term is going to prompt more queries from employees. And whatever HMRC might suggest about the PTA, individuals are still going to query their affairs with their employer if they notice that their monthly payslip has a smaller ‘net payment’ number on it.

Faster tax debt recovery 

But there’s another change that few seem to know about. With the announcement of ‘Faster recovery of Self-Assessment debt’, HMRC is to use technology to recover additional Self-Assessment debts closer to real-time by adjusting the tax codes of individuals with PAYE income. This change will take effect from 6th April 2019 (see http:// bit.ly/2je9Wpf). 

It’s interesting given that the first results of HMRC using RTI information to try to reduce the level of inaccuracy in the system saw them issuing around eight million P800 (notification of wrong tax paid) forms, two-thirds of which were for refunds where the taxpayers involved were not earning enough to pay tax in the first place.

So, if the first round of dynamic coding effectively accelerated repayments by replacing the P800 forms with in-year adjustments, HMRC will now think they’ll be identifying tax that hasn’t yet been paid by Self-Assessment taxpayers, but which should have been. In simple terms, this means HMRC will be adjusting employees’ take-home pay downwards more often than upwards, so be prepared for the queries.

To conclude 

HMRC is clearly under pressure both to cut costs and bring in more tax revenue, all without the government openly increasing tax rates. Technology is aiding HMRC’s compliance but in so doing, it’s moving the burden from the state to the taxpayer for whom ignorance is no defence. Quite simply, unless you want to be burdened with whatever HMRC gets passed, you need to feed back into the process. You’re unlikely to stop it, but you may be able to shape how these proposals are implemented.