Revenue jumps the gun on ELS

The ICAEW has put together a substantial document on how it perceives HMRC’s
online delivery and current strategy, while suggesting how it could improve in
the future. The document was to be sent to Lord Carter during the consultation

But with the ICAEW set to make its stand, HMRC pulled the rug from beneath
its feet.

One of the ICAEW’s main points was that the Electronic Lodgement Service,
used by thousands of accountants in recent years to file their clients’
self-assessment returns, is more effective than filing by internet.

They argue that the internet version is inferior, and perhaps more
importantly, ELS allows accountants to attach loads of client documentation to
the filing to make sufficient disclosure to avoid discovery.

‘This will continue to be a major barrier to take up until this issue is
openly debated and a mutually acceptable solution found,’ argued the ICAEW in
its consultation document.

So, what does HMRC do? It ditches ELS ­ from April 2006.

The timing of this decision is frustrating for two reasons.

First,it must have been made with the review in mind and suspicions are that
it was designed to pre-empt it.

Second, with the ICAEW’s argument for keeping the system running
circumvented, there are fears that accountants will go back to hard copy filing,
increasing administrative costs for HMRC and taxpayers.

Concerns still abound over the robustness of HMRC’s IT systems, and online
tax filing in general.

Theoretically, it makes more sense for HMRC to run one system. It removes
confusion for accountants, allows tax software companies to do less work on
their products, and reduces costs for Her Majesty’s tax collector. But the
system must work.

And all this takes place under the backdrop of the Gershon review, which is
pushing public sector efficiencies alongside performance improvement.

Lousy timing, HMRC. Let’s hope former ELS users will be able to switch to
the internet next year and feel just as comfortable.

Kevin Reed edits Accountancy Age’s technology page

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