Deadlines overshadow online revamp

Reaction to Lord Carter’s review of the future of HM Revenue & Customs’
online services has been dominated by his recommendation to bring forward self
assessment filing dates, with much consternation among the profession.

But many of those detractors have also expressed disappointment that the
issue over shifting the filing deadline will overshadow many of the
recommendations made by Lord Carter, which have been taken on board by HMRC.
‘It’s a very good report,’ says Francesca Lagerberg, senior tax director at
Smith and Williamson. ‘But it’s a shame we’ll talk about SA tax deadlines.’

The overarching target set by Lord Carter is that HMRC should aim towards
‘universal electronic delivery’ of tax returns from business and ‘IT-literate’
individuals by 2012, but only if efficient online filing systems are in place
and ‘fully tested’.

‘We spoke to lots of stakeholders, and had tremendous input,’ Lord Carter
told Accountancy Age.

With HMRC planning to spend £340m in online service infrastructure over the
next nine years, Lord Carter expects implementation of full online services to
save business and taxpayers over £175m annually from 2012/13.

There are a couple of real benefits lined up for accountants by Lord Carter.
First he has recommended linking the period HMRC has to query a tax return from
the date it is filed, and second that HMRC should give its internet service more
filing capacity to enable accountants working on behalf of clients to file extra
attachments with returns.

More controversially Lord Carter recommended that agents, who are in the vast
majority accountants, should be made part of a registration scheme to enable
potential clients to identify agents registered for and using HMRC online
services. Those that apply could be required to abide by a code of practice.

Recent consultation between HMRC and Companies House on aligning filing dates
has been endorsed by Lord Carter, although accountants had earlier attacked the
proposals as increasing red tape and not saving money.

HMRC should build in more rigorous testing to deliver robust high capacity
services, Lord Carter found. Capacity should be tested for at least a year
before any of the filing recommendations are implemented.

For businesses, he recommended that they are required to file VAT returns,
PAYE in-year forms and company tax returns online in phases from April 2008 to

HMRC should stop accepting computer-generated paper SA substitute returns on
paper from April 2008, having received almost three million of them during
2004/05. Lord Carter describes the rekeying of these onto HMRC’s systems as
‘wasteful and introduces manual errors’.

Carter’s suggestions

• SA returns to be filed on paper by 30 September or online by 30 November,
from 2008
• ‘Universal electronic delivery’ of tax returns from businesses and the
‘IT-literate’ by 2012
• HMRC should stop accepting SA returns on paper substitutes from April 2008

• Phase in VAT returns, corporation tax returns and PAYE in-year forms online
from April 2008
• Established an agent registration scheme and a Taxpayer Data Standards Forum

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