Saturday, 10 October 2009

HMRC's stealth taxation through technology

The Revenue is introducing a new requirement to force agents to submit company accounts on-line in XBRL format from April 2011. Let me quote from their website:

Company Tax Returns and XBRL

XBRL stands for Extensible Business Reporting Language, which is an international standard designed for business financial reporting.
At the moment accounts and other attachments to online CT600 returns can be sent in PDF format. From April 2011 (and for all CT600 returns due after 31 March 2011) we expect that all CT600 returns will have to be sent online, and will have to include attachments using the XBRL format.
You don't have to wait till 2011 to change to XBRL, and we recommend you consider doing so before it becomes mandatory. Later in 2009-10 HMRC intends to introduce a CT filing product which uses XBRL (this will be aimed at smaller, unrepresented companies), and to introduce a new main CT Online service. Other software developers have introduced or are working on products which use XBRL.”

I find this very news disappointing, especially with the short time-scale. I assume that behind this is an intention to make company accounts more accessible to staff within HM Revenue & Customs, and will help their cost-cutting. The justification is the report by Lord Carter on HMRC on-line services amongst other things. Lord Carter had to revise his proposals on individual taxpayers' Self Assessment deadlines following a furore back in 2006 that they were impractical. It would be useful if we could have just a little more time to make the change.

Self Assessment itself was introduced as a cost-cutting exercise, though it increased the cost burden of compliance for taxpayers.

The effect of the new requirement for XBRL format is to transfer further costs to taxpayers. The increase in software costs for tax agents will either have to be passed on to clients or the agents will have to bear them. No doubt the specialist tax software providers will have their developers working furiously to be ready for 2011 and they will need to charge the end user. Unfortunately the change will amount to a stealth tax even on those businesses which are not in profit. I believe in value billing, but increased overheads in software costs do not provide value for the agent or the end-user business. It is very difficult to provide the best value to clients whilst having to dance to the Treasury's discordant tune.

© Jon Stow 2009

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