Comment – Thin line between love and hate

I am writing to express practitioners’ frustration and annoyance about the continuing operational problems regarding the processing of the 1996/1997 self-assessment tax returns.

The paperwork being issued by Inland Revenue offices is often incomprehensible to taxpayers, is sometimes incorrect and is often involving them in additional professional costs. Many advisers are finding they are incurring costs which they are unable to pass on to clients nor recover from the Revenue.

The English ICA Tax Faculty’s review of the introduction of SA expressed the institute’s concern that there has been far too little consultation on operational matters, and this appears to have been the cause of many of the present problems.

The same review points out that the introduction of SA has damaged the longstanding relationship between the Revenue and the accountancy professions which forms the bedrock of the UK tax system.

The General Practitioner Board is keen to rebuild this relationship but there is a strong feeling among our membership that the profession is owed an apology.

It will undoubtedly help matters if you are able to respond to the following questions so that I can reassure members.

How many of the 670,000 late-filing penalty notices proved to be correct?

What improvements are being made to documentation to avoid future problems?

Have Revenue staff been instructed to take reasonable steps to ensure tax liabilities are correct before taking Court action?

How many of the 1996/1997 tax returns have been processed so far, how many are awaiting processing, and when is it anticipated that all returns will have been processed? Are separate figures available in respect of partnerships?

Have clearer instructions now been given to districts regarding the processing of 1996/1997 partnership returns and the finalisation of 1996/1997 ‘old-style’ partnership assessments, in particular regarding the unfairness of the interest provisions which are contrary to the Taxpayers’ Charter? This is one of the main recurrent problem areas.

What is the present backlog of correspondence relating to pre-1996/1997 tax years (in terms of months) and how quickly will the promised 28-day response to letters be re-introduced?

Are quality controls being introduced to avoid a repetition of the large number of 1996/1997 processing errors, resulting in some cases in excessive demands or overpayments of tax being made?

What steps are being taken to resolve the communication problems between the inspector and collector of taxes?

Finally, we have strongly urged the government to help matters by permitting the Revenue to adopt the light touch, promised by the previous government, in the application of the penalty regime. Failure to do so is likely to result in many taxpayers exercising their right to appeal to the General Commissioners in respect of penalties imposed.

Please let me have your thoughts as to what we can do together to rebuild the longstanding good relationship between practitioners and Revenue staff in local offices.

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