Accountants must brace themselves for compulsory electronic filing within five to 10 years, despite concerns about fallible IT systems and changes to accountants’ established working practices.
Experts believe that government will force a compulsory move during the next decade – piling pressure on companies to make their own changes well ahead of time.
Laurence Pyzer, a director at Relate Software and a chartered accountant, said that there will be a ‘general move’ to online filing, even though it’s not a ‘priority’ for most accountants at the moment.
‘The government will want to force this through, certainly within 10 years, most likely five,’ he said.
However, the Inland Revenue has its own problems with current online filing after being forced to apologise for the glitches in its web-based system that caused many self-assessment filings to fail in the days leading up to the 31 January deadline.
Filers that suffered these problems have been given until mid-February to resend the information.
In other areas, efforts are underway to encourage businesses over to electronic douments. Companies House has just increased the cost of filing an annual return from £15 to £30, but accountants who file returns online will be charged the original fee.
Dave Reynolds, head of the Independent Association of Accountants Information Technology Consultants, said that the cost of filing on paper could force some accountants ‘into the 21st century’.
‘If it makes the accountant more efficient then that’s good,’ said Reynolds. However, he is concerned that smaller practices might not have the ‘infrastructure’ to send a large number of annual returns online.
One accountant, Jenny Green from Lincoln, has accepted that she will eventually have to file online.
‘I don’t do any work online at the moment, but I guess we’ll all have to,’ she said. ‘I’m wary about everything going online, because of the attacks that computer systems can face. I’m a great believer in human contact and relations.’
Green was also indignant that Companies House had made the new pricing structure appear as if it was offering a reduced price for filing returns online.
‘I filed my own return in November, and don’t remember seeing any notice about the fee going up.’
Tom Moss, director of corporate strategy at Companies House, said: ‘Our intention is to make contact with us easier for customers and to provide better security by increasing the availability of electronic services.
‘We have an ambitious programme to be able to receive over 90% of documents electronically by the end of 2007 and to have 75% take-up by May 2008. This will allow significant cost savings to be passed on to customers.’
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