Tax & admin · 27 November 2015

Autumn Statement 2015: Accountants raise doubts about move to online tax

George Osborne unveiled plans for a “digital revolution” at HMRC
George Osborne unveiled plans for a “digital revolution” at HMRC

Members of the UK200 group of independent accountants and lawyers have responded ambivalently  to the digital tax measures announced in the chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 25 November – predicting that the policy will increase workload for professionals in both industries.

George Osborne announced on Wednesday that HMRC will require the majority of businesses to keep track of their tax digitally by 2020 and provide updates at least every quarter – but tax professionals have raised doubts about the practicality of the proposed move.

John Watkins, a senior partner at chartered accountants Dickson Middleton, said: “It is difficult enough to get tax information out of clients in general and stock valuations from farmers in particular once a year, never mind four times a year.”

He added that questions remain over the filing deadlines to be imposed on companies to update their record in time and the penalties that late filers would incur.

Rees Russell, a partner at Jonathan Russell, is of the belief that the reforms will result in “significant extra work and cost” for taxpayers – and doubted that it would result in benefits for firms. But he also praised the proposals for their potential to make it easier for HMRC to catch individuals and businesses who fail to declare income.

The chancellor described the changes as a “digital revolution” in his address to parliament – and some practitioners are concerned at the scale of change.

Andrew Jackson, head of tax at Fiander Tovell LLP, said: “Until we see details of how the system is meant to work, it is impossible to say how successful it will be. Taxpayers with significant non-employment income will have to report it to HMRC quarterly. This is a massive shift from the current system of gathering up your papers and doing a return six months to a year after the year end.”

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Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.

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