Peter Mitchell – Trial and error at the Revenue

So the 31 January self-assessment deadline is past. What a trial this process has proved; filling out the returns needed a great deal of understanding, while the software took an age to obtain – to say nothing of agreeing the tax calculations and statements that followed.

The Inland Revenue seems unable to cope with the returns submitted, and many districts are reportedly several months behind. Clearly, many clients won’t know the agreed level of their 1996/1997 tax payments until March 1998 or even later, despite weekend working and all other work sidelined.

The reality of ‘slow’ filing is surely the added effort required. Colleagues report average completion time has extended from 30 minutes to at least one and a half hours.

How insensitive of the Revenue to panic clients with final reminders when returns were filed after 30 September. Why weren’t these logged as received? Additional effort was wasted contacting districts and reassuring clients.

It is hard to believe, given the number of enquiries or processing problems identified outside and within the Revenue, that this system was satisfactorily tested before launch. A further trial year was required before foisting it on an unsuspecting public. Hopefully, an internal Revenue investigation will pinpoint who was responsible for this indecent haste.

The sole beneficiary of this ‘fairer’ system appears to be the government in accelerating collection of tax; accountants are putting in greater effort – so clients will suffer an unwelcome increase in charges. I calculate that allowing for an additional hour at #70 for five million taxpayers plus training and software for 30,000 practices at, say #500, the total bill could come to #500m.

Despite the blood, sweat and tears shed by those stretched to the limit to comply, late filing of returns has occurred; hopefully, the Revenue can find it in its heart not to automatically impose #100 fines.

Clearly, this ‘make work’ solution to government policy must be streamlined and simplified for the 1997/1998 tax year and those after. This must not be the end. Peter Mitchell is chairman of the Small Practitioners’ Association

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