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hector tax inspector online

Hector’s struggling online

Evidently the future of UK tax is online – or so HMRC would like us to believe. All new HMRC forms must now be completed online, with most of the old paper forms being replaced with new online versions.

Apparently there is a HMRC working group which is responsible for producing the new HMRC forms, but there is no evidence whatsoever that this group has even considered the needs of taxpayers or their accountants, when designing those new forms.

This lack of “customer input” (accountants are HMRC’s customers as much as taxpayers), is creating problems for my profession as we are the ones who are tasked to deal with HMRC forms on behalf of our clients. The issues I have identified so far include:

Hidden pages

Most of the new interactive PDF forms only allow you to move forward to the next page of the form after all the required information is completed on the earlier page. This means the form can’t been viewed in its entirety before the completion process begins, and you don’t know what information will be requested on a later page. A typical example is form L2P to allow small limited companies to reclaim tax paid on loans.

I’ve found that the only solution, and I should add time-consuming, is to complete the form with dummy data and screen print each page for future reference.

Secret address

If you manage to reach the last page of the new online form, you are often faced with an instruction to print the form, sign it and send the signed hard copy to HMRC. However, the exact address to which the form must be sent remains a mystery. A prime example is form R40 to claim a refund if you have paid too much tax on interest from your savings, a common occurrence for many pensioners.

The necessary addresses for submitting form R40 can be found elsewhere on HMRC’s website after a bit of searching, but they’re not on the actual form itself!

Banned attachments

Occasionally HMRC needs further information to be supplied in order to action the taxpayer’s request. We know that HMRC will ask for the information but there is no box on the form to submit it. To make matters worse, there is also no means to attach the relevant document to the online submission of the form. An example of this is the online application for VAT registration.

Boxes too small

The HMRC forms design group obviously has a brief to consider only UK reference numbers when deciding how many digits each data box can cope with. Where a taxpayer has an overseas bank account, which is very common amongst ex-pats or perhaps a company registered overseas, the reference number is usually too long to fit in the designated box. Hence the form completion fails, with no alternative solution being offered.

Incompatible software

Sometimes HMRC asks the taxpayer (usually an employer) to submit a large volume of data in one go, such as for a section 16 return, these are used if HMRC requires information on a spreadsheet, such as PAYE data. In those cases HMRC will generally provide a template spreadsheet for the employer to use.

That works well when the employer can easily import the template and complete it using their standard software. The vast majority of organisations use Microsoft software, so it makes sense that the section 16 template is a MS Excel spreadsheet.

So why oh why, is HMRC’s template in an OpenDocument format, which is not compatible with Excel? It just seems that the designers have gone out of their way to annoy and frustrate the employer and their accountant.

A Tax Accountant’s view

Image of David Jones Shrewsbury Accountant and Founder of Morgan JonesThis new online forms regime in my opinion is quite simply, not fit for purpose, with the plethora of new forms seemingly designed to confuse, annoy and frustrate ordinary taxpayers, employers and accountants in equal measures.

Once again, HMRC appear to be discriminating against individuals who don’t have access to a computer or broadband, especially in rural areas and the elderly, many of which wouldn’t know one end of a computer from the other, let alone complex forms with limited or no user friendly help section.

If any of you would like more detailed information on any aspect of UK Tax Returns, send me an e-mail and I’ll be pleased to advise further.