Monday, 3 November 2008

Ulterior motives and deadline woes

Well, the deadline for submitting paper tax returns for 2007-08 has passed with Halloween, and with it the Government’s trick or treat. The trouble is that this messing around with deadlines really is a trick. We have until 31st January 2009 to submit Self Assessment Returns online, and the real reason for the earlier deadline for submitting paper ones is to force online submission to save costs. HM Revenue & Customs probably hoped that people would not get their acts and papers together by the end of October, and would be forced to investigate the online process, either doing it themselves if computer literate, or otherwise having to employ an agent. Then they will be locked in for the future to the online system.

Now, as an agent this will bring me more business, but the truth is that HMRC have got their cost cutting in early; they have already cut so many staff and are so short of resources that they take a long time to process paper returns. It is known that the Sefton office in Bootle is months behind in dealing with paper returns. Even where returns have been submitted for several back years following discoveries by HMRC of possible undeclared income, they are still taking weeks and months to compute liabilities. They used to be so hot on that, but trained staff who understand tax technicalities are in short supply in HMRC.

I feel very sorry for the staff that have to answer the phones. None of them knows anything about tax and consequently each has to take a lot of flak. We are not allowed to talk to those who actually understand and do real case work.

The deadline change for paper returns suggested by dear Lord Carter was just a ploy to get returns submitted online and get the Revenue computers to do all the work. Yes, it saves taxpayers money but it does not help the older taxpayers or those who are not used to computers; in the main it will cost them money to have their tax affairs sorted out.

Has the Government and HMRC been entirely honest about this?
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