Inland Revenue staff were branded as poorly trained and under pressure this week by a leading accountancy body.
The UK 200 Group, which represents small and medium-sized firms of accountants, made the accusations after a survey it conducted into the first year of self-assessment revealed that more than 5% of correct returns filed by group members were returned as incorrect.
The group’s 71 member firms involved in tax advice filed over 71,000 self-assessment forms, with 98% on time. But more than 3,600 were sent back by Revenue staff.
Almost 1,800 #100 penalty notices were also incorrectly issued, the survey found, but the Revenue refused to re-imburse taxpayers for any additional costs.
Survey organiser David Ingall, a partner at York firm JW Pickles, explained the processing problem. ‘This often involved omitting income or allowances and re-inforced the view that Revenue staff were being asked to undertake a mass computer-processing task for which they had not been properly trained,’ he said.
A Revenue spokeswoman said staff were still getting used to the new tax regime, but added that training would continue. ‘We can’t deny we’ve had teething problems, but we are trying to iron them out,’ she said.
‘Returns would not have been sent back unless there was something wrong. Somebody at the Revenue would have looked at each form.’
Richard Shooter, chairman of the English ICA’s self-assessment monitoring group, said better communication was needed to resolve the Revenue’s problems.
‘There needs to be an improvement in communication between head office and the local offices, and between the Revenue and tax agents,’ he said.
‘Are quality controls going to be introduced to avoid a repeat of the large number of 1996/1997 processing errors? You can understand these mistakes happening with the sort of pressure the department’s staff are working under.’
Three tax software developers have come under fire for claiming their products could be used for filing returns electronically before they had gained Inland Revenue approval, writes John Stokdyk.
Software firms need approval of their ability to support the Revenue’s electronic lodgement system for each year’s tax returns. Ibis, PTP and Digita circulated promotional material which claimed they could do so without receiving the Revenue’s go-ahead for 1997/1998.
PTP managing director Richard Good said: ‘Maybe we jumped the gun by promoting it, but we’re days away from approval.’ Digita’s Jeremy Rihll said: ‘We’re awaiting final confirmation; within a week, we’ll have it.’
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