Surviving scapegoat status

Judging from the comments of the accountancy profession’s pessimists,s not bad news all round. The Inland Revenue is being unfairly criticised, says David Guest. you would think that the end of the first year of self-assessment had marked not just a drama but a full-blown crisis. And that the blame for this lay squarely with the Inland Revenue.

It worries me that this impression is unbalanced – and that it harms the reputation of the profession and those allied to it.

Yes, the first year of self-assessment was always going to be the most difficult. And the interpretation of the rules by local tax offices might have been a headache for some accountants. But there are many thousands of practitioners who, despite the difficulties, have succeeded in alerting their clients to the new regime and filing accurate returns on time.

They are ill-served by those accountants and software suppliers who have sought to make a scapegoat of the Revenue. It has been well-documented in this newspaper that software for self-assessment has been a particular source of complaint in the past year, yet in our opinion the Revenue gave software suppliers much more help than we expected at this time last year.

As a result, my company was able to send out self-assessment software to its customers last March, before the tax year even began. In this as in much else, the Revenue made commendable efforts to smooth the passage to self-assessment for accountants and service providers.

Unfortunately, when the profession and some of the software industry make a song and dance about the first year of self-assessment, they can too easily be accused of acting out of self-interest and the fear of litigation from aggrieved clients.

And that risks damaging the reputation of both the profession and the tax software industry as objective commentators on tax matters. Let’s not forget that almost as many finance directors polled by Accountancy Age were satisfied with the Revenue’s handling of self-assessment as were dissatisfied.

Given that blaming the Revenue is an established national pastime, that is a pretty good result in the first year of a new tax system.

David Guest is managing director of Transaction Technology, suppliers of Iris, the accounts and tax software system.

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