Self assessment slow-up provokes wrath of industry

A ‘slow-up’ in HM Revenue & Custom’s self assessment systems before the
online filing deadline, has been slammed by the profession.

HMRC expects a huge increase in SA filings from agents before the 31 January
deadline, and has requested that accountants and advisers file online returns
for clients ‘outside of peak hours’.

‘Thousands and thousands will file on the 31 January deadline, but it won’t
be as pleasant as if you file now,’ an HMRC spokesman told Accountancy Age.

However, accounting institutes claimed it was ‘unacceptable’ for the
department to admit that its systems will slow down as the date looms.

‘It’s unacceptable to have a statutory deadline and tell people to file at
different times,’ said ICAEW tax faculty deputy chairman Paul Aplin.

‘I think that if HMRC really wants to see significant uptake, it must get the
system right first and then incentivise [uptake]. If it doesn’t do that, it will
make the task much harder.’

ICAS tax director Derek Allen said that accountants originally wanted to file
online, but because HMRC’s technology struggled to cope with demand the
department was ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’.

‘The systems aren’t robust enough, and hold back confidence. We need a 100%
guarantee. It has failed to create a system that does what it promises.’

In December, HMRC chief information officer Steve Lamey said it had ramped up
its capacity for online tax filing. Compared to the same period last year, the
number of agents filing returns via the internet has increased by 93%, while
those using the soon-to-be dropped electronic lodgement service slumped by 23%.
Over 600,000 returns had been filed via the internet by the end of December,
double the figure for the same period last year.

Despite its admission, the department insisted that it will be able to deal
with a larger number of online returns than last year, and more smoothly. Last
year’s online filing deadline problems led to a two week extension of the
deadline as the system choked.

Ian Sumbler, a partner at Morris Owen, expressed some sympathy for HMRC’s
plight. ‘If it is dealing with such a high peak, then its system is idle for 90%
of the time, it doesn’t help anyone.

‘Although it’s not necessarily acceptable to expect accountants to file
during “out of hours”, it’s in accountants’ interest to make the process as
smooth as possible.’

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