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HMRC’s Digital and Tax Agent Strategy

08 November 2013

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is developing a new platform of digital services, which will ultimately enable tax agents to ‘self-serve’ and allow individual taxpayers and businesses to conduct all of their transactions online.

Tax agents will be able to see their clients’ payments and liabilities across the main business taxes and enable them to notify HMRC about new clients. Individuals and businesses will have a personalised ‘bank-style’ online homepage, which will contain an overview of their account, with links to filing and paying functions.

The Four Exemplar Services

HMRC wants to transform its services so that they are Digital by Default and support the department’s three core objectives of maximising revenue, minimising costs and improving the taxpayer experience.

Four Exemplar Services have been developed to open up the digital experience to different customer groups.

PAYE Online – In addition to allowing the taxpayer to view on online statement and a breakdown of how their tax has been calculated and spent, the service will also allow individuals to get information about their tax code and inform HMRC of any changes.

Paperless Self Assessment – This service is intended to allow Self Assessment taxpayers to have an end-to-end digital service, with guidance and messaging online, to help them complete their returns as accurately and efficiently as possible.

Tax for My Business – Designed to help small and medium sized enterprises with a mixture of education and support, this service will offer tailored guidance and links to their online transactions.

Agent Online Self Service – The current system of agent codes is set to be replaced by a new single registration process involving agents applying for a Unique Agent Reference (UAR) from HMRC. Due to be phased in during 2014/15, agents will be invited to apply for a UAR and asked to supply further information about themselves.

However, full access to the new service is not going to be granted to all, until the agent is ‘trusted’ by HMRC.

‘Trusted’ agents

HMRC is still contemplating what criteria will need to be met, in order to achieve ‘trusted’ status. Criteria under consideration include:

  • How long the practice has been in existence
  • Whether an individual (rather than the firm) within the practice is a member of a designated professional body
  • The existing ‘footprint’ of the practice in terms of what HMRC already knows about the firm
  • Whether the practice has Professional Indemnity Insurance
  • The existence of a Practicing Certificate
  • Licensed access to the Bar (for lawyers and legal practitioners)
  • A VAT registration number

Agent and Client Statistics (formerly called Agent View)

Agent and Client Statistics aims to bring together information held on HMRC’s systems about agents and the filing, payment and compliance histories of their clients.

This has already proved to be a contentious issue. HMRC has advised the professional tax bodies that it will be asking agents to do more to ensure their clients’ compliance in an effort to close the tax gap. In response, the professional bodies have said that if they start to do more to assure their clients’ compliance, clients may stop using agents and try and deal with their affairs on their own, which could create even more problems.

During a recent HMRC presentation on the Tax Agent Strategy, my fellow attendees expressed their unhappiness that their access to the new digital services may be restricted because of the behaviour and non-compliance of some of their clients. One attendee said HMRC was effectively suggesting that clients with poor compliance histories should be ‘dropped’ and left to seek alternative help.

The HMRC presenter responded by admitting that clients’ compliance histories would reflect on the agent, but if HMRC could be reassured that every effort was being made to improve the behaviour of those clients, then this would not in itself prohibit trusted status.

Going forward

Eventually, all of HMRC’s services will be accessed through the single Government domain; GOV.UK will enable access to all information and transactional digital services provided to the wider population and businesses by central Government using one web address.

Further information on the HMRC Tax Agent Strategy can be viewed here on the HMRC website here http://abytx.co/1cKXsLk

Details concerning HMRC’s ‘Agent and Client Statistics’ can be accessed on the HMRC website here http://abytx.co/16CbttV

Author: Guy Smith, Senior Tax Consultant on the ReSource Tax and VAT Consultancy Team Email: g.smith@abbeytax.co.uk

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