Goodbye tax returns, hello digital accounts

In an effort to streamline and simplify the administration of the Self Assessment tax system HMRC is planning to open digital accounts for fifty million taxpayers by 2020. When completed, these taxpayers will no longer be required to submit Self Assessment tax returns to HMRC.

Instead, HMRC will gather information from employers, pension providers, banks and building societies, and automatically post data regarding salaries, benefits, pensions and investment income to the digital accounts.

It is still not clear how information regarding property income, capital gains, business profits and other chargeable income or gains will be gathered by HMRC, although it has been mooted that it will be possible to link business accounting software with the digital accounts by 2020.

This is a radical shift from the present “gathering and filing” processes that presently places the responsibility for the make-up and lodgement of Self Assessment data on the taxpayer. In some respects it harks back to the days prior to Self Assessment when HMRC used to issue assessments to taxpayers, who were then obliged to check the numbers.

 Information published so far by HMRC indicates that:

  • Taxpayers, and their agents, will be able to access their digital accounts to make real time changes to data and pay their tax.
  • Fifteen million taxpayers will be set up with digital accounts as early as 2016 with the remainder given access to their digital accounts by 2020.

 More details are needed in order to assess the impact of these changes and HMRC have advised they will publish this later this year.

It will be interesting to see how the change will impact associated issues such as late filing penalties. Hopefully, HMRC will abandon these charges for taxpayers where little or no tax is due.

The Government will also need to consider digital exclusion: how are they going to accommodate taxpayers who cannot easily access the internet for various reasons?

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