Sympathy for the Revenue

Given the bashing it has taken over the past couple of years, it might initially seem surprising that the Revenue is attracting anything other than hostility.

The financial press has been littered with stories of systems failures, unreliability and general frustration with the services it offers.

On electronic self-assessment, for instance, more seems to have gone wrong than right. Evidence of the need for changes to the e-filing system was available in spades at Sage Expo last month. At a round table hosted by Sage and Accountancy Age, Tim Wright, the Revenue’s product manager for e-services for agents, explained why e-filing matters. And why it should matter more to accountants. Putting a Revenue official in front of an audience of accountants with first-hand experience of e-filing problems makes words like ‘lamb’ and ‘slaughter’ leap to mind.

But Wright made a convincing case of how, while the Revenue itself needs to get its act together, accountants need to educate themselves and their clients about the benefits of electronic filing of tax returns. If the accountants attending the session are anything to go by, that education process will involve an uphill struggle. Only one of the 30 or so accountants in attendance had received requests to file returns electronically and there appeared to be little appetite to encourage take-up.

This lethargy comes at a time when the e-filing is on the increase. Some 165,000 self-assessment returns were filed electronically this year compared to 75,000 in the previous year. And 2,000 accountants currently use the electronic lodgement services to file tax returns.

The Revenue is also running a pilot with one large practice looking at the concept of an electronic filing cabinet where accountants, clients and taxmen can work together, exchanging and receiving data. But there will be no quick fix: almost one in three returns received by the Revenue is still ‘paper and pencil’. Hundreds of accountants are still not using IT to help run their practice.

Until that changes, electronic filing will remain an exception to the rule. And that means paying tax will be a slower process than it needs to be and one where more mistakes are made.

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