Tired and angry after tax turmoil

Many tax practitioners are exhausted and angry in the wake of the 31 January deadline for lodging self-assessment tax returns.

Their exhaustion arises from working long hours – in many cases, seven days a week – for several months.

Their anger arises from the Revenue’s inflexibility over the deadline penalty regime and some poor strategy planning. The worst example of this was probably the notice sent to taxpayers that most interpreted as advising their tax returns were outstanding when, in fact, they had been received and logged months before, but had not yet been processed. Some firms have told me that calls from clients about these reminders jammed their switchboards for days.

It is disappointing the government has not agreed so far to honour the previous government’s pledge to apply a light touch to the penalty regime.

If some leniency is not shown the Commissioners could be inundated with appeals.

In September 1997, theGeneral Practitioners Board began its campaign to extend the late filing penalty deadline to 31 March 1998, on the basis that there were unique and manifold problems beyond practitioners’ control in the first year of self-assessment. There have been opposing voices to the campaign but supporters outnumber them by five to one.

Some practitioners have been concerned that they might be pressured to pay clients’ #100 penalties, which could have a devastating effect on their practices. Practitioners concerned about this should contact Alan Taylor at the English ICA or write to me.

My greatest fear now is that the self-assessment system is entering its most difficult phase. The rigidity of the regime may lead to claims from the Revenue for compensation for costs. This could lead to a deterioration of the relationship between practitioners and local inspectors.

The government and the Revenue at national level need to recognise that the UK has a complex tax system that relies greatly on the co-operation of professional tax advisers and their clients. This co-operation is in great jeopardy with the current problems and frustrations many are experiencing.

Richard Shooter is chairman of the English ICA’s self-assessment monitoring group. Alan Taylor can be contacted on 0171 920 8686.

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