HMRC will no longer send out letters in the post advising taxpayers of self assessment repayment notifications, claiming they simply caused confusion
The change was announced on 7 December and came into effect immediately affecting notifications about all Bacs self assessment repayments.
This will affect tax advisers and individual taxpayers. Instead of a letter, HMRC will send out a digital confirmation although this will not start immediately as the IT system has to be updated to handle the change.
In an update to accountants and tax advisers, HMRC said: ‘We’re changing how we let you and your clients know we’ve issued a SA Bacs electronic repayment. There is no change to the repayment process itself, so customers will still receive any monies owed to them through their bank as normal.
‘We’ll no longer send a letter informing you or your client of an SA repayment. We often find these letters arrive after the repayment has been made leading to confusion and increased contact from customers.
‘We are making improvements to our IT systems in relation to SA repayments, so we are also temporarily pausing digital notifications from 7 December 2023 while we do this. We’ll let you know when these notifications are reinstated.’
HMRC has clearly judged that the volume of calls about repayment issues is too high and sees this as an area where it can reduce costs. The end of letter communications should reduce pressure on limited resources in call centres, while also saving on the cost of producing letters and postage.
Accountants and individual taxpayers will still be able to view repayment transactions through HMRC online services. The information will be available in agents accounts, where agents can review transactions for their clients. Individuals will be able to access their HMRC online account to review any transactions and can also sign up to receive digital notifications, although this service is currently suspended.
The end of repayment letters was announced at the same time as HMRC seriously curtailed the use of self assessment helplines in the run-up to the tax return season. This will see HMRC call handlers only dealing with the most complex enquiries, while all callers will be met with a message stating that the majority of queries can be handled online on HMRC’s website. They will also be sent a text message, if they have called on a mobile, advising them where to find the information requested.
The reduction in helplines will also hit accountants, with the agents dedicated line handling only the most complex queries during the self assessment season, while HMRC call handlers will not deal with any PAYE-related questions until February.
Accountancy bodies criticised the move, pointing to a major resource issue at HMRC, which has seen a number of service cuts in recent months.
John Barnett, chair of CIOT’s technical policy and oversight committee said: ‘We are concerned that in practice many of their customers will be unable to navigate HMRC’s digital services and will simply give up.
‘Previous trials to limit calls to complex queries, or diverting people to online services, have proven either troublesome or inconclusive.’
Digital platforms like eBay, Vinted and Airbnb will have to report seller data to HMRC from January giving the tax authority access to unparalleled information, warns Miruna Constantin, tax manager at RSM
Are you one of the millions of UK individuals selling second hand clothes on digital platforms? Whether you’ve been caught by the Marie Kondo urge to declutter and detoxify your wardrobe, or have a side hustle on platforms such as Vinted, Vestiaire Collective, eBay or Etsy, HMRC will be keen to find out more about potential untaxed income.
Vinted has over 8m registered sellers in the UK with some users claiming they have turned selling second hand clothing into a full-time job and thanks to new information powers HMRC will start to know about that income.
From 1 January 2024, digital platforms will have to start collecting seller data and pass that over to HMRC to match against taxpayers’ records to make sure people report the right information on their tax returns.
The measures also impact those renting out properties on Airbnb (among other platforms) or people selling their services online, and these platforms have been warned to brace themselves against landing in hot waters with HMRC.
The first reporting deadline for online platforms will be 31 January 2025 and to meet these requirements they will need to implement new ways of collecting seller information so that HMRC can match and verify it against taxpayers’ records to make sure individuals are correctly reporting their income on their tax returns.
There will be hefty fines and penalties for failing to submit reports or submitting ‘inaccurate, incomplete, unverified sellers’ records’ so the platforms will be incentivised to ensure they meet their reporting obligations.
If you are an occasional seller receiving no more than £1,700 for fewer than 30 sales in a reporting period, your information is not required to be provided to HMRC. However, that doesn’t mean you do not have any tax reporting obligations.
Depending on whether you have a profit-seeking motive (for example, some online platform users buy premium items from outlets and then sell them at a profit online), the number of transactions you make, or the nature of the assets you sell, your little side hustle might be seen as trading.
In this case a self-assessment tax return will need to be filed with HMRC and income tax and National Insurance contributions paid accordingly. If you make sales of £1,000 or more in a year, you will need to consider whether a tax return is required.
The good news is the information collected by platforms must be shared with HMRC as well as with sellers, which should help taxpayers get their affairs right. It could however bring a whole new raft of unaware individuals within HMRC’s reach and could make some taxpayers think twice about their wardrobe spring clean.
Considering the fast approaching deadline, digital platforms need to be ready to start collecting information in the New Year, but HMRC should also take steps to ensure that sellers are aware of the potential tax implications they may face and educate them appropriately.
In the busiest period of the tax year, HMRC plans to significantly reduce access to the self assessment helpline, prioritising only complex queries from Monday
Without prior warning, HMRC has confirmed that from 11 December until 31 January, it will redirect the majority of callers to the self assessment helpline to online services, telling taxpayers to find their own answers to queries about tax returns.
HMRC said that call centre advisers will focus on answering ‘priority queries’, described as ‘those that cannot be easily dealt with online’, as well as supporting the small minority of callers who require extra support or cannot use online services.
However, HMRC has not explained how these priority calls will be ranked and dealt with during this period.
The sudden announcement, with only four days’ notice, follows the abrupt three-month closure of HMRC helplines over the summer and the decision that helplines would be cut by 30% by the end of 2024 to allow staff to be reallocated to jobs in other parts of HMRC.
In the same period last year, HMRC received 1.2 million calls, more than one fifth of the total calls received in the 12-month period.
The service reduction will also affect accountants and tax advisers who will be told to use online services rather than relying on the agent dedicated line to resolve problems.
HMRC said: ‘Agents who call the ADL and whose queries are not specifically related to SA filing, payments or repayments, including agents with multiple client queries, will be redirected to alternative channels or asked to call back in February.
‘During SA peak, ADL will not be dealing with any PAYE-related calls, however we know that many queries can be resolved quickly and easily online. We encourage agents to consider using tools such as the ‘Income Record Viewer’ or the Where’s my reply tool before contacting us.’
The decision has been heavily criticised by accountants and tax advisers.
John Barnett, chair of CIOT’s technical policy and oversight committee, said: ‘Reducing access to HMRC’s self-assessment helpline is misguided.
‘While we understand HMRC’s desire to prioritise where it puts its limited resources, we are concerned that in practice many of their customers will be unable to navigate HMRC’s digital services, and will simply give up.
‘Previous trials to limit calls to complex queries, or diverting people to online services, have proven either troublesome or inconclusive.’
Glenn Collins, head of strategic and technical engagement at ACCA, described HMRC’s service as ‘unacceptably poor’.
‘The dramatically reduced service will be a worry for taxpayers and financial professionals alike,’ said Collins. ‘At a time when queries around self assessment go up significantly, this move by HMRC once again demonstrates it lacks the proper resources that it desperately needs.
‘ACCA has repeatedly called on the UK government to make significant improvements to the HMRC services, including the availability of HMRC agents to resolve basic issues which is currently not being achieved using the current HMRC online services.
‘We stand by our previous statement whereby we referred to HMRC as having unacceptably poor service. The difficulties experienced by accountants in working with HMRC cannot be overstated, and the reduced service offered by the helplines will surely only further exacerbate poor service levels and cause more frustrations at one of the busiest times of the year.’
The influential Treasury Committee was also critical of the decision, particularly the lack of notice about the service reduction.
Chair of the Treasury Committee, Harriett Baldwin, said: ‘Giving the public less than two working days’ notice of a significant reduction in service, while the deadline for self assessment returns looms, is yet another alarming development for an increasingly pressured government service. I have written to the CEO of HMRC in order to get much-needed answers about what this means for taxpayers.’
HMRC rejects any criticism of the downgrade to helplines and CEO Jim Harra told MPs on the Treasury Committee that the tax authority is fully committed to a move to a digital only approach.
It is convinced that many of the calls to the helpline are for trivial requests and said that ‘around two-thirds of calls to the SA helpline can be resolved far quicker through HMRC’s online services. To make all SA callers aware of the department’s extensive online services, recorded messages supported by SMS texts will be used’.
However, recent figures show that nearly one in five taxpayers were not satisfied with HMRC’s online services and it is difficult to resolve complex queries online. HMRC said that most calls are about basic questions which can easily be resolved online, such as updating personal information, chasing on the progress of a registration and checking a Unique Taxpayer Reference number.
Angela MacDonald, HMRC’s deputy chief executive, said: ’This is a busy time for customers who want to get their taxes sorted. We want to help customers resolve any issues in the quickest and easiest way, which is often through our online services.
‘The vast majority of self assessment customers file their returns digitally, so we’re helping them make the next step to resolving simpler queries through our online services.
‘Our expert advisers will be there to help people with urgent and more complicated queries as well as helping the small number who are unable to access our online services.’
Services on the Agent Dedicated Line will replicate the self assessment offer, with agents also being directed to our digital services for suitable queries.
HMRC is transitioning to a digital-first approach and said it was ‘continuing to improve and expand its online services, increasing their capabilities and ease of use so they become the default option for customers’.
Taxpayers who need support to complete their return for the 2022 to 2023 tax year ahead of the deadline on 31 January 2024 have been told to go to HMRC’s online support. More than 97% of self assessment taxpayers file their tax returns online.
The government is going ahead with plans to tighten up the accounts filing framework for small companies with mandatory profit and loss figures but has not set out implementation timetable
Under the new rules in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023, small companies will be required to file a profit and loss account and directors’ report. This will ensure that key information such as turnover is available on the public register. Companies will no longer be able to file abridged accounts.
A spokesperson at the Department for Business & Trade told Accountancy Daily: ‘We have not set out a timetable for implementation of the new rules but any changes will not affect accounts due from 1 January 2024. We need to allow time for Companies House to update their systems. We will be confirming more details about the filing changes in due course.’
‘Requiring more information to be filed will reduce the risk of deliberate misuse of minimal disclosure options to hide money laundering and other fraudulent activity. Ensuring all companies report sufficient information to determine a company’s size and eligibility to file under size specific regimes will improve the value and reliability of the information,’ the government said.
Rather than detailing the filing obligations for small companies andicro-entities in the same section of Companies Act 2006, the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 splits the requirements into two sections, which aims to make the filing requirements clearer for companies to understand. The new legilsation covers sections 53 to 58 [from page 47 onwards].
Under the new rules, amendments to the small companies filing requirements require the preparation of annual accounts in accordance with section 396 CA 2006.
In future, small companies will be required to file a profit and loss account, and directors’ report. This will ensure that key information such as turnover is available on the public register at Companies House. A company is defined as small if it meets two of the following criteria: turnover of less than £10.2m, £5.1m or less on balance sheet and 50 employees or fewer.
Micro-entities with turnover of less than £632,000, balance sheet of £316,000 and 10 employees or under, will be required to prepare annual accounts in accordance with the requirements of section 396 CA 2006, which requires the preparation of a profit and loss account. They will not have to produce a directors’ report.
There will no longer be an option for micro companies to prepare abridged accounts.
The government said ‘the amendments will make the filing requirements easier to understand, reduce fraud and error, and improve transparency’.
Directors who use the audit exemption rules, including dormant companies, will have to file an exemption statement, identifying the exemption being relied on and to confirm that the company qualifies for the exemption.
This additional statement is intended to act as a deterrent to criminal activity and to provide additional enforcement evidence.
The new rules are also meant to crack down on abuse of dormant company rules.
Evidence from law enforcement agencies shows that some companies file dormant company accounts and claim the dormant audit exemption, despite their bank accounts clearly showing that the company does not meet the definition of a dormant company. The additional statement is intended to act as a deterrent and help Companies House address such offences in the future.
The government plans to make further changes to reporting rules in a future amendment to the Act, including mandating digital filing, full tagging of financial information in iXBRL format, and a reduction of the number of times a company can shorten its Accounting Reference Period.
HMRC has amended guidance on the tax treatment of electric charging of company cars and vans at residential properties
The costs of charging are now treated as a tax-free benefit, whereas in the past HMRC said that where an employer reimburses their employee for the cost of charging a company-owned, wholly electric car that is available for private use, the reimbursement was taxable as earnings.
HMRC has now changed this position and has updated the EIM23900 manual to reflect their revised interpretation regarding home charging of electric company cars.
Section 239 ITEPA 2003 provides an exemption on payments and benefits provided in connection with company cars and vans. This legislative provision therefore exempts aspects such as vehicle repairs, insurance, and road tax.
HMRC previously maintained that the reimbursement of costs in relation to charging a company car or van at a residential property was not caught by this exemption.
‘Following a review of our position, HMRC now accepts reimbursing part of a domestic energy bill, which is used to charge a company car or van, will fall within the exemption provided by section 239 ITEPA 2003,’ HMRC confirmed.
This means that no separate charge to tax under the benefits code will arise where an employer reimburses the employee for the cost of electricity to charge their company car or van at home.
The exemption will however only apply providing it can be demonstrated that the electricity was used to charge the company car or van.
Employers will need to make sure that any reimbursement made towards the cost of electricity relates solely to the charging of their company car or van.
HMRC has revised interest rates with late payment bills charged 7.75% from 22 August, the highest rate since 2001
The late payment and repayment interest rates follow the rise in the Bank of England base rate to 5.25% on 3 August and are applied to the main taxes and duties that HMRC currently charges and pays interest. The rates will rise to:
- late payment interest rate — 7.75% from 22 August 2023
- repayment interest rate — 4.25% from 22 August 2023
This means that the late payment interest rate will increase by 0.25% to 7.75% from 22 August. The last rate increase was on 11 July. Rates were last this high in August 2007.
Late payment interest is payable on late tax bills covering income tax, National Insurance contributions, capital gain tax, corporation tax pay and file, stamp duty land tax, stamp duty and stamp duty reserve tax. The corporation tax pay and file rate also increases to 7.75%.
Repayment interest will also be increased from the current 4% rate to 4.25%.
Corporation tax self assessment interest rates relating to interest charged on underpaid quarterly instalment payments rises to 6.25% from 6% for the earlier date of 14 August.
With late payment interest now 2.5% above the Bank of England base rate, HMRC continues to pay lower interest to taxpayers affected by overpayments of tax at 4.25%, up from 4%.
The interest paid on overpaid quarterly instalment payments and on early payments of corporation tax not due by instalments rises to 5% from 4.75% from 14 August.
Following a trial, messages on the estimated time it will take to speak to an adviser were extended to more HMRC helplines from 4 July
The message will be played at the start of the call so taxpayers can make an informed choice about whether they want to hang on, use HMRC’s online services or call back another time.
During the trial period, it was clear that callers abandoned calls as the average wait time halved from 40 to 20 minutes. HMRC did not provide figures on how many callers refused to wait for a call handler and used alternative HMRC services to resolve queries, or called back later when lines could have been less busy.
Call wait time messages are based on the previous day’s average and will be included on the following helplines:
- child benefit;
- Construction Industry Scheme;
- National Insurance;
- online services;
- tax credits; and
In the update in the latest stakeholder digest, HMRC said: ‘Expected call wait times are already given on the PAYE helpline. This has proved successful with a significant number of customers choosing to leave the queue and resolve their query elsewhere.
‘We’ve been able to take more calls from customers who still need to speak to us, and wait times reduced from 40 minutes at the start of the trial, to consistently below 20 minutes.
‘We want to be open and transparent about how long our customers can expect to wait and encourage the use of our digital services which are quicker and easier than calling us.’
Late last month HMRC announced plans to shut the self assessment helpline over the summer and transferred the 350 call handlers to other telephone services during the three-month closure. HMRC argued that the decision was taken to improve overall customer service levels which have come under fire as agents, accountants and the public have faced lengthy waits to access HMRC call centres.
HMRC is in the midst of a major back office IT upgrade, which involves moving more services to cloud-based platforms to improve response times.
HMRC service levels continue to decline as only 61% of callers managed to get through to an adviser by phone in the latest performance report
This marked a 10% decline in successful call connections from an average of 71% over the period April 2022 to March 2023. In the month HMRC received nearly four million calls with 2.9m wanting to speak to an adviser. The previous month HMRC said it had only received 3.23m calls.
On average it took nearly 21 minutes (20:59) to answer calls, while more than two thirds (69%) of callers waited more than 10 minutes to get through to an HMRC adviser.
In March 2023, the 61.3% of positive call connections marked a significant decline from 66.1% a year ago. In November last year, HMRC managed to answer 78.4% of calls, illustrating a worrying drop in service levels over the five month period.
Despite HMRC’s attempts to direct people to web services and webchat to answer queries, there is still very high demand for advice from HMRC staff.
There was also a fall in caller satisfaction with HMRC phone service declining by less than 4% to 75.7% although this figure includes all interaction with phone, webchat and digital services. However, this was the lowest score recorded in the last 12 months.
Recently HMRC said it was transferring call centre staff to handle the huge backlog of post as the performance report showed that 10% of post took more than 40 days to deal with.
ICAS chief executive Bruce Cartwright said: ‘Our members are increasingly telling us that they face severe delays and frustration when dealing with HMRC. Poor HMRC service levels are having a significant impact on taxpayers and businesses.
‘We and other professional bodies, continue to urge the government to invest more in HMRC to make sure they have enough resources to deliver at least an adequate service. Right now, this just isn’t the case.
‘Without an increase in funding and resources, HMRC seems unable to improve their service and support to taxpayers to acceptable levels.’
Tax credit claimants need to be on their guard against fraudsters, as HMRC warns of increasing use of text messages by scammers
According to the National Cyber Security Centre, HMRC was the third most spoofed government body in 2022, behind the NHS and TV Licensing.
HMRC has issued an alert providing details of a number of new scams that aim to trick people into handing over money or personal information, including claims that a taxpayer’s National Insurance number has been used in a fraud.
In the year to April 2023 HMRC responded to 170,234 referrals of suspicious contact from the public. Of these, 68,437 were related to bogus tax rebates.
HMRC worked with the telecoms industry and Ofcom to remove 212 phone numbers being used to commit HMRC-related phone scams in the last year and responded to 58,186 reports of phone scams in total.
The number of scams has gone up dramatically in the last three years from only 425 phone scams in April 2020.
The scale of the problem was highlighted by the tens of thousands of fake web pages containing malicious information about HMRC and ways to claim tax credits. In a single year, 26,922 malicious web pages were reported to HMRC for takedown.
Criminals use deadlines – like the tax credits renewal deadline on 31 July – to target their victims and the department is warning around 1.5 million tax credits claimants to be alert to scams that mimic government communications to make them appear genuine.
Scam messages can be convincing, and individuals may be pressured into make rushed decisions. HMRC will never ring anyone out of the blue making threats or asking them to transfer money.
Typical scam examples include:
- emails or texts claiming an individual’s details are not up to date and that they risk losing out on payments that are due to them;
- emails or texts claiming that a direct debit payment has not ‘gone through’;
- phone calls threatening arrest if people do not immediately pay fake tax owed;
- claims that the victim’s National Insurance number has been used in fraud; and
- emails or texts offering spurious tax rebates or bogus grants or support.
Myrtle Lloyd, HMRC’s director general for customer services, said: ‘Tax scams come in many forms and we’re urging customers to be alert to the tactics used by fraudsters and never to let yourselves be rushed.
‘If someone contacts you saying they’re from HMRC and asks you to give personal information or urgently transfer money, be on your guard. Search ‘HMRC scams’ advice on gov.uk to find out how to report scams and help us fight these crimes.’
HMRC is also urging tax credits customers to be alert to misleading websites or adverts asking them to pay for government services which are free, often by charging for a connection to HMRC helplines.
HMRC is currently sending out tax credits renewal packs to customers and is reminding anyone who has not received theirs to wait until after 15 June before contacting HMRC.
Taxpayers can renew their tax credits for free via gov.uk or the HMRC app.
HMRC has a video on YouTube explaining how tax credits claimants can use the HMRC app to view, manage and update their details.
By the end of 2024, tax credits will be replaced by Universal Credit. Customers who receive tax credits will receive a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) telling them when to claim Universal Credit. It is important that people claim by the deadline shown in the letter to continue receiving financial support as their tax credits will end even if they decide not to claim Universal Credit.
HMRC is also warning people not to share their HMRC login details with anyone else. Someone using these could steal from the account owner or make a fraudulent claim in their name and leave the individuals having to pay back the full value of any fraudulent repayment claim made on their behalf.
- criminals are cunning – protect your information.
- take a moment to think before parting with your money or information.
- use strong and different passwords on all your accounts so criminals are less able to target you.
- do not trust caller ID on phones. Numbers can be spoofed.
- if you’re unsure about a text claiming to be from HMRC forward it to 60599, or an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Report a tax scam phone call on gov.uk.
- contact your bank immediately if you’ve had money stolen, and report it to Action Fraud. In Scotland, contact the police on 101.
The government plans to move rapidly to a digital only approach to communications with HMRC to reduce admin costs and cut use of call centres
To achieve this the government intends to reform the rules about how taxpayers give consent to communicate digitally with HMRC by making it the default position.
The changes are in line with HMRC’s longer term strategy to increase the use of self-serve and digital channels and to provide services that are ‘easy to use, with increased support to remove barriers to digital services where appropriate’.
It also admits that HMRC guidance needs to be improved to make it more accessible and understandable for taxpayers.
In future, HMRC will provide less choice around the non-digital channels it offers to taxpayers such as telephone calls and post to reduce the use of these channels, where users are able to go digital.
HMRC’s aim is to improve the range and accessibility of its digital services and move as much taxpayer interaction to self-serve digital channels as possible. At the same time, HMRC will look to increase automation and the ability to self-serve in its non-digital channels wherever possible, while providing support for those who need it.
Many taxpayers already do some of their tax online, using their personal tax account, business tax account and the HMRC app. ‘As these services have been developed separately over the last few years, they have not always offered a unified and consistent experience to taxpayers,’ HMRC said.
As part of the overhaul, HMRC aims to introduce a new single customer account for all taxpayers.
HMRC aims to implement its first phase of transforming digital services through the single customer account by 2025. This will focus on transforming services for individual taxpayers and account functionality, with business needs addressed in later phases.
Part of the plan will focus on improving sign in, security and subscription to digital services. HMRC will also start rolling out features to enable taxpayers to change their details (phone numbers, emails, address, marital status) online in a single place and have those changes apply to all services to which they are subscribed.
The proposals also aim to reduce the volume of post sent out by HMRC, which currently sends around 70 million items by post annually, at a cost to the taxpayer of around £40m.
Over the next two years, HMRC will start to reduce the higher volume letters and forms it sends out on paper and will instead provide these through digital channels. It will also do this for some key inbound forms.
It has already confirmed that it will require the minority of digitally capable employers who still submit P11D and P11D(b) forms (reporting employee benefits and expenses) on paper to use online forms from April 2023. It will then move to providing digitally capable employers with P6 and P9 coding notices solely using digital methods.
HMRC is seeking views on whether all, but digitally excluded taxpayers should be required to register for income tax for self assessment (ITSA) online, through their digital tax account.
Using the digital by default approach, HMRC would assume consent from the taxpayer to receive future ITSA communications digitally, unless they opted out. HMRC would then deliver the taxpayer’s first notice to file digitally and require the first and subsequent annual ITSA returns to be delivered digitally.
Before implementing these changes HMRC said it would ensure there was a high level of taxpayer satisfaction with the digital registration service. It also said there would be sufficient advance notification of the move with advance communications with agents, accountants and taxpayers.
There are also plans to reform the repayment process with a push to digital only approach.
Recent research found that participants were keen to see fewer steps in the repayments process and some found the sign up and authentication process to be a barrier and were keen to see a simplified approach.
There was also low awareness of the process for claiming repayments digitally and taxpayers said that P800 notifications could often be missed or not acted upon.
On PAYE overpayments, HMRC plans to contact taxpayers to offer a choice between receiving a digital payment or requesting a payable order instead of sending a payable order after 21 days if the taxpayer takes no action.
This will help to prevent payable orders being sent to incorrect addresses and will allow taxpayers to self-serve and get their repayments more quickly, which will also reduce HMRC’s printing and paper costs.
HMRC is also looking at ways to improve the accuracy of tax codes and wants to better understand how it can try to get tax codes more reflective of an individual’s circumstances more quickly when circumstances change through job moves and additional of employee benefits such as company cars.