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Wednesday, 06 March 2024 / Published in Fraud

Companies House has begun a phased rollout of new powers to improve the quality and reliability of its data and clamp down on abuse of the companies register

The register is used 14 billion times a year and the new rules are designed to ‘improve the quality and reliability of the register. Cleaning up the register will not happen overnight but it will enable us to improve transparency,’ Companies House said. ‘We will use data matching to check the company details and we will do more and more as time passes.’

Most of the changes require significant IT investment and will take place over a number of years with a need to hire more specialist investigators. Companies House has already heavily invested in data science capabilities so they can be ‘ahead of the curve in terms of our future capabilities. We recognise that technology is changing all the time and we have to keep pace with that’.

The organisation has grown quite dramatically in the last year with the recruitment of over 160 people, and plans to take on another 60 over the next few months to deal with the rollout of identity verification using the new Gov.uk One Login, which is replacing Government Gateway accounts.

Down the track, Companies House will introduce compulsory identity verification in 2025, as well as streamlining accounts filing requirements for small companies to require all companies to provide profit and loss accounts, a director’s report where accounts are not audited, and no more abridged accounts from 2026.

A timetable for these changes has not been announced but they are expected to come in over the next two to three years. The measures will require secondary legislation through a number of statutory instruments.

‘This large and complex set of changes will be introduced in phases over the coming years,’ Companies House said.

The first measures under the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 (ECCT Act) came into force on 4 March.

Companies House currently has quite limited powers to question information – under the new rules, it will be able to take a much more robust approach, and will be able to query information already on the register. This will see officials at the registry challenging any inconsistences from new and existing entries on the register, for example, if a company has unusually high share capital, or directors registered at other addresses, then this will be investigated.

The most significant changes include greater powers to query information and request supporting evidence, more robust checks on company names and the ability to remove factually inaccurate information.

In future, companies will not be able to use a PO Box as their registered office address and must have an appropriate address at all times.

Companies House has written to a few thousand companies telling them to change their addresses as they are currently using PO Box numbers.

All companies will also have to supply a registered email address although this will not be published.

There will also be a requirement for subscribers to confirm they are forming a company for a lawful purpose when they incorporate, and for a company to confirm its intended future activities will be lawful on its confirmation statement.

In terms of powers to target criminal abuse of the register, Companies House will also be able to share information more proactively with other government departments, including HMRC, and law enforcement agencies.

Some of the fees for sharing the information with law enforcement have been removed and Companies House is already sharing trust data from the register of overseas entities with other departments, which is proving to be a ‘really rich resource of data especially for HMRC’.

This means that Companies House will be able to ‘share data to help disrupt economic crime. We will be much more proactive and will help UK’s drive to tackle economic crime. We have received funding to increase capabilities in this area and have hired more investigators’.

The new powers to investigate entries are similar to powers for monitoring the Register of Overseas Entities.

There will also be new criminal offences and civil penalties for failure to comply with the rules. 

Companies House CEO Louise Smyth said: ‘These new and enhanced powers are the most significant change for Companies House in our 180-year history.

‘We’ve known for some time that criminals have misused UK companies to commit fraud, money laundering and other forms of economic crime.

‘As we start to crack down on abuse of the register, we are prioritising cases where people’s names and addresses have been used without their consent. It will now be much quicker and easier to report and remove personal information that has been misused. This will make a real difference to individuals.’

From 1 May 2024, Companies House will also increase fees to take new future expenditure into account, as well as making sure costs are recovered from existing expenditure.

This is the first phase of measures to improve corporate transparency, with further legislation required to enforce new reporting rules for smaller businesses with the introduction of mandatory profit and loss accounts, and end of abridged accounts, , and the new failure to prevent fraud offence.  

Vincent Billings, partner in the corporate and commercial team at SA Law, said: ‘The aim is to create better transparency and remove the presence of so-called ‘Mickey Mouse’ companies. But this is a source of anxiety for many company directors, who are worried about being caught in a position where they have failed to comply with the new laws.

‘There are other major changes to be expected later down the line – including a new ‘failure to prevent fraud’ offence, which means directors could be held liable for failing to prevent fraud committed by a member of staff, or a business or individual they’re associated with.

‘With consequences including financial penalties and potentially even prison sentences, it is vital directors are up to speed with the changes and seek appropriate advice if they’re unsure about anything.’

The new rules are meant to crack down on kleptocrats, criminals and terrorists who abuse the current open economy. 

Business minister Kevin Hollinrake said: ‘Companies House now has the tools to take a much harder line on criminals who take advantage of the UK’s open economy and can now ensure the reputation of our businesses is not tarnished by the UK playing host to the world’s scammers.

‘The new reforms provide further protection to the public from companies fraudulently using their address and will begin to remove the smoke and mirrors around companies hiding behind false information.’

Wednesday, 06 March 2024 / Published in HMRC

The government is investing £305m in a single login system for taxpayers and agents using online services such as HMRC with the launch of GOV.UK One Login

The new login service has two factor authentication and will be rolled out across all government web services to replace Government Gateway accounts over the next three years.

The project is being led by the Cabinet Office with HMRC one of the first government departments planning to roll out the service.

In future, users will only need a single login to access all central government services, rather than remembering multiple accounts and passwords. Gradually, over time, One Login will replace all existing login and identity checking platforms across central government. Government Gateway is over 20 years old and was first introduced in January 2001. 

The Cabinet Office said: ‘The GOV.UK One Login programme as a whole has a cost of £305m, which includes development, implementation, running the system and support for users and services. This is over a three-year period and will see up to 145 services from across government join by March 2025’.

In a bid to prevent fraud, One Login includes two factor authentication, which requires users to set up their account with a code used in addition to the password, for secure logging in.

When a user proves their identity using GOV.UK One Login, there will be sophisticated counter-fraud measures in place to ensure they are who they say they are.

GOV.UK One Login will improve digital inclusion by offering multiple ways for people to prove their identity – including those without photo documentation (like a passport or driving licence) – and access government services online, the Cabinet Office confirmed.

As the rollout is expected to be completed within a year, there will be pressure to transfer millions of Government Gateway individual users to the system.

In a statement, HMRC said: ‘From Spring 2024, HMRC will begin to invite individual customers without existing HMRC online sign-in details to create a GOV.UK One Login account. There will then be a gradual migration of existing Government Gateway customers starting with very small and controlled numbers.

‘HMRC is still in the private testing stage, so precise dates are yet to be confirmed.

‘Initially, only a small number of users will be able to access HMRC services through GOV.UK One Login, with volumes building gradually over time. There will be no sudden switch-off of the Government Gateway service.

‘This measured approach is designed to ensure a high-quality experience for users.’

It is important to note that HMRC will contact individual taxpayers to advise them to migrate.

HMRC stressed: ‘Existing Government Gateway users will be informed when they need to create a GOV.UK One Login account to replace their Government Gateway – they don’t need to contact HMRC.’

‘It will not happen for everyone at the same time, and you do not need to do anything unless we ask you to.

‘You do not need to do anything differently to access HMRC online services, until we prompt you to.’

The scheme is projected to deliver at least £700m of benefits by April 2026, the Cabinet Office said.

This spring, users new to HMRC will have to set up a new GOV.UK One Login. Later in the year, all users returning to HMRC services will be directed to use One Login, rather than Government Gateway.

Agents will continue to use Government Gateway to access their services for the time being and HMRC has not yet finalised details of how the agent rollout will work and the timetable.

Once the system is fully operational, the full range of HMRC and wider government services will be available online through the single login, including income tax, student loans, and Universal Credit, which are currently available through Government Gateway.

At the moment, there is simply a list of links to other pages on gov.uk sites, including find a grant, apprenticeship assessment service and basic DBS checks.

HMRC has issued initial guidance on the new login, stating that ‘GOV.UK One Login is a new way of signing in to government services. It provides a simple way for you to sign in and prove your identity using an email address and password’.

Over time it will replace all other sign in routes including Government Gateway that many customers and businesses currently use. 

Going forward, anyone accessing government services online, including HMRC, will automatically be asked to create a GOV.UK One Login.

The One Login service will have to be used by accountants and tax agents although full details of how these accounts will interact with client accounts has not been published.

HMRC confirmed: ‘If you’re a tax agent, or an organisation with a business tax account, you will continue to use Government Gateway until you’re asked to create a GOV.UK One Login.’

There is a new authorisation and identity verification process to sign up to the One Login, which means you will need to have some identification documents such as a passport or driving licence to complete the application. 

Users will have to input an email address and include the preferred method to get security codes, either via a mobile number or an authenticator app.

Once you start the registration process, HMRC first checks your email address by sending a six-digit security code to verify the email.

Once an account is created, the system will send security codes to verify identity via text message or authenticator app for mobiles, tablets or computers. Then users can access their account via https://www.gov.uk/account

Tuesday, 30 January 2024 / Published in Self Assessment

Taxpayers are being warned to pay any tax due by the 31 January deadline as HMRC interest rates hit their highest rate for more than 20 years

The interest for not paying self assessment tax on time has been charged at 7.75% since last  August and penalties accumulate for late payment.

The self assessment tax deadline is rapidly approaching and if any outstanding assessments are not paid by 31 January charges can quickly mount up, warn accountants at Blick Rothenburg.

Through 2023 the late payment charge increased from 6% on 6 January to a high of 7.75% on 22 August 2023.

In April 2020 the late payment interest rate was just 2.60% then went up to 2.75% in January 2022 when the Bank of England raised the base rate. There were a further eight increases in 2022 to 5.50%.

January 2023 saw a further increase to 6%, with five increases last year to the current high of 7.75%. This is the highest rate since it was 7.5% in May 2001.

Stefanie Tremain, tax partner at Blick Rothenberg said: ‘If any tax due by 31 January 2024 is not paid in time, HMRC will charge interest. Currently at a rate of 7.75% per annum, from the due date to the date of payment.

‘In addition, a 5% penalty will be charged if the 2022-23 balancing payment is not paid within 30 days of the due date, with an additional 5% penalty charged if the tax remains outstanding after six months and 12 months.’

Tremain advised that taxpayers should ‘consider making an estimated payment’ to avoid additional charges, even if it is not exactly correct at the time.

Filing a return after midnight on 31 January will result in a penalty of £100, then after three months a £10 a day penalty kicks in until the payment is made. This can go up to a maximum of £900.

Tremain said: ‘If your tax return remains outstanding after six months, a tax geared penalty will be charged at the rate of £300, or 5% of your overall tax liability if that is higher.

‘If your return is over 12 months late, another £300 (or 5% of the overall tax liability if greater) penalty will be charged.’ 

However, there are some excuses HMRC consider to be reasonable for filing late. These include a relative passing away close to the deadline, you were in hospital or had a life-threatening illness, your computer broke, HMRC services were down and lastly, a fire, theft or flood stopped you from being able to complete the return.

Amendments to a tax return can be made to a tax return up to 12 months from 31 January 2024, although you will be charged interest if it was underpaid.

Tremain said: ‘You could, however, amend your return if you realise you have missed a relief you are entitled to, such as relief for Gift Aid donations or pension contributions, which means you may be due a tax refund.’

A Time to Pay arrangement can be set up if individuals are struggling to pay their bills but ‘such arrangements are specific to each taxpayer and will depend on your own individual position as to whether HMRC agree to a Time to Pay and, if they do agree, what the terms will be,’ Tremain added.

Wednesday, 24 January 2024 / Published in Self Assessment

One in four taxpayers still have to file their annual tax return or face a £100 penalty with only one week to go until the self assessment deadline

HMRC has warned that 3.8m people still have to file their tax return by 31 January, up on last year’s figure of 3.4m at the same date. An estimated 12.1m taxpayers have to file under self assessment rules, and so far 8.3m have filed online for the 2022-23 tax year.

It is important to file by the deadline or face an automatic £100 penalty, which was paid by an estimated 2.7m taxpayers last year.

Dawn Register, head of tax dispute resolution at BDO said: ‘There could be tens of thousands of people who will have been drawn into the self assessment tax net for the first time in the 2022-23 tax year. Many may be unaware of their obligations to file a tax return before 31 January 2024 and could run the risk of penalties.

‘These new filers could include parents claiming child benefit whose salaries crossed the £50,000 threshold for the first time in the 2022-23 tax year and who will have to repay some or all of their benefit through the high income child benefit charge.

‘They might be higher earners whose salaries topped £100,000 or pensioners who earned more than their savings allowance because of rising interest rates. Alternatively, they could be working people whose side hustle earnings were above £1,000 during the tax year.’

Due to pressure on HMRC phone lines, the availability of call agents has been reduced and only complex enquiries will be dealt with over the phone. All other enquiries will be directed to HMRC’s online services.

Myrtle Lloyd, HMRC’s director general for customer services, said: ‘If you are a self assessment taxpayer, now is the time to take action and get your return done. People can familiarise themselves with the process by checking out HMRC’s online resources on gov.uk.’

For anyone unable to pay outstanding tax in full, it is possible to set up a time to pay arrangement online, without speaking to HMRC, if less than £30,000 is owed.

When completing a return, it is important to ensure bank account details are included, so that if HMRC needs to make a repayment, they can do so quickly and securely without needing to issue a cheque.

The penalties for late tax returns are:

•            an initial £100 fixed penalty, which applies even if there is no tax to pay, or if the tax due is paid on time;

•            after three months, additional daily penalties of £10 per day, up to a maximum of £900;

•            after six months, a further penalty of 5% of the tax due or £300, whichever is greater;

•            after 12 months, another 5% or £300 charge, whichever is greater.

HMRC will consider a taxpayer’s reasons for not being able to meet the deadline. Those who provide a reasonable excuse may avoid a penalty.

There are also additional penalties for paying outstanding tax late. These are 5% of that unpaid at 30 days, six months and 12 months. Interest will also be charged on any tax paid late.

It is important to let HMRC know of any changes to personal details or circumstances, such as a new address or name, or if you have stopped being self-employed or your business has closed.

Anyone who thinks they no longer need to complete a self assessment tax return for the 2022 to 2023 tax year, should tell HMRC – so that they can issue a withdrawal notice – before the deadline on 31 January 2024 to avoid any penalties.

Customers need to be aware of the risk of falling victim to scams and should never share their HMRC login details with anyone, including a tax agent, if they have one.

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