Revenue spurns ELS returns

The first firm to file a 1999/2000 tax return via the Inland Revenue’s electronic lodgement system has warned returns from ELS agents are being ‘treated as an afterthought’ by Revenue officers.

As well as filing a return for the previous tax year last week, Metherell Gard partner Roger Griffiths submitted more than 300 returns for 1998 via ELS using Forbes Computer Systems’ ProTax software. Acknowledgments were returned automatically by the ELS computer, but by the start of April, the firm had only received statements of account for 73 of its clients – fewer than one in four of those filed.

‘They do not treat ELS agents with any priority at all,’ said Griffiths.

‘They seem to have lost sight of what the statements are for – collecting money.’

With so many of his clients receiving statements after the 28 February payment deadline, Griffiths asked: ‘Are they trying to collect the 5% surcharge by not informing agents?’

Although it was unable to provide an explanation for the delays to Metherell Gard’s statements, the Revenue confirmed this week that 178,000 taxpayers were surcharged for failing to settle their accounts by 28 February.

‘The basic idea of self-assessment is that people do their own calculations and should be aware of how much is due and when,’ said a Revenue spokeswoman.

Henstock Shooter’s Richard Shooter, who chairs the English ICA’s self-assessment monitoring committee, agreed that ‘statements of account remain the biggest difficulty’ in the self-assessment system, and that the government may need to commit extra funds to resolve the problems.

‘How many of us have to phone up Barclaycard to find out how much to pay?,’ he asked.

Shooter added that the ELS could suffer a loss of credibility if it failed to show the promised benefits: ‘It’s a bit like travelling first class on the train. Not only do you expect to get to your destination, you want to get first-class facilities and privileges.’

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