Has there ever been a worse time to be involved in tax?

Tony Margaritelli laments the poor state of HMRC and the service it provides to tax agent.

Welcome to the latest issue of HMRC EIP magazine.

It’s a simple fact that accountants and tax agents cannot operate in a vacuum.

We need two things: clients and HMRC. The former pay us to handle their affairs efficiently and effectively, to establish their tax liabilities speedily and with certainty, to ensure all their necessary interactions with HMRC are undertaken within the timescales laid down and to minimise their exposure to tax legally within the law.

To help us do this we study to attain status, invest in CPD to keep relevant and invest in technology to keep costs to the minimum and to operate effectively in the modern digital environment.

So far so good: everything is under our control and we stand or fall under our own aegis. However, when it comes down to our interaction with HMRC it seems that we are hitting a maelstrom of uncertainty, inefficiency and inactivity, and an obsessive belief in all things digital – while at the same time the taxman is failing to achieve anything meaningful in the digital world in a reasonable timescale. Their abject failure to deliver MTD, despite countless promises and protestations that all was on target, and the problems with reporting property sales for GCT, are prime examples but there are more.

Those of you with good memories will remember the RTI debacle.

All of this coupled with an obsession to control and reduce costs, despite the effect those cost savings have on agents and their ‘customers’. By the time our accountancy institutes become involved practitioners everywhere, of whatever shape, size and denomination, must be at breaking point. So in March this year the CIOT, AAT, ICAEW, ACCA, ATT, ICAS, CIMA, ICB, CIPP and STEP wrote a joint letter to HMRC. They said, among other things: “We increasingly hear from our members about the severe delays, business disruption and frustration that has become a regular occurrence when dealing with HMRC. Businesses claiming repayments and reliefs are frequently waiting upwards of six months, straining cashflow. Time spent waiting on phone lines and sending chasing letters creates additional compliance costs that our members typically bear rather than pass on to their frustrated clients, but it is also an added cost for HMRC and ultimately, taxpayers.”

Strong words and sentiments all practitioners will recognise. The response from HMRC contained the by-now mandatory apology for some of their customer service levels “not been where they want them to be”.

Their answer is to offer a “an easy and simple online service”, which is something they have spectacularly failed to achieve to date. But don’t worry colleagues, because “between now and 2030, HMRC will build a digital tax system that does more to help customers get their tax and payments right first time, reduces error and fraud and fits seamlessly with the way people run their businesses and their lives.”

So it will be alright in the end, but then what happens? HMRC cut the helplines, that’s what happened.

We are constantly told by HMRC at every available opportunity that “they value the work we do”. I for one am finding it very hard indeed to believe them. I believe that the work we do, the costs we absorb, the businesses we help to succeed, the taxpayers (sorry ‘customers’) we represent in all manner of disputes, is most certainly not valued and frankly is highlighted by the perfunctory response to valid issues raised by our institutes.

Has there ever been a worse time to be involved in taxation? You know what, I don’t think there has.

Tony Margaritelli is the Publisher of HMRC EIP magazine