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HMRC set to recognise personal circumstances as tax deadline looms

Following nearly seven months of consultation, HMRC has issued an updated version of its customer charter, which sets out new promises and expectations for how the department will behave. It also includes fundamental improvements for you and your clients, writes Anne Davis director of professional standards at the Institute of Financial Accountants

At its core, HMRC’s new charter has shifted significantly in terms of both language and format, designed to help reflect its vision of a modern tax system.

It has moved away from the ‘expectations’ and ‘obligations’ approach of old, to incorporate more collaborative, open and inclusive terminology. For example, focus is now placed on ‘improving the customer experience’ and ‘mutual respect’, which has been translated into seven standards of behaviour that HMRC is now committed to exhibiting:

Getting things right – giving you accurate, consistent, and clear information;

Making things easy – services that are designed around what you need to do, and are accessible, easy, and quick to use, minimising the cost to you;

Being responsive – answering questions and resolving things first time or as quickly as possible

Treating you fairly – HMRC will work with you to get tax right and assume you are telling the truth, unless they have good reason to think you are not;

Being aware of your personal situation – HMRC will listen and be mindful of your personal situation. Extra support will be provided if it is needed;

Recognising that someone can represent you – HMRC will work with accountants, friends or relatives that have been authorised to represent you. They will only deal with them if you have authorised them to represent you;

Keeping your data secure – data held by HMRC will be treated privately and confidentially, and used fairly and lawfully.

In addition to this much more explicit list of behavioural standards, HMRC is encouraging feedback on its performance against these standards, and asking that individuals, businesses and accountants submit feedback when their behaviour misses the mark. They will be monitoring and benchmarking this performance, in a bid to improve the overall quality of service that the department exhibits.

Having submitted an extensive response to the consultation, The Institute of Financial Accountants is delighted to see many of our recommendations addressed in the latest iteration of the charter. Clarification around HMRC’s service commitments, inclusion of accountants as authorised representatives, guidance for additional support for those that need it and, details of how HMRC will monitor and report on performance against the charter have all been incorporated.

The other major change which deserves recognition is the inclusion and recognition of a taxpayer’s personal circumstances, and how this might impact on their relationship with HMRC, as well as what extra support will be offered to combat these personal challenges. This is fundamentally important for those without straightforward personal circumstances, including those with mental health challenges, learning difficulties, those who are vulnerable, those with a language barrier, those with age-related difficulties, and/or those who are struggling financially.

HMRC is now coming to recognise that these circumstances may provide significant challenges to ‘getting tax right’, and has therefore explicitly detailed the extra support which can be accessed and expected, such as advisers to help set up digital accounts or support with paper returns, new methods for contacting HMRC, and the ability to appoint someone to talk to HMRC on your behalf as and when you need support.

As the self-assessment tax return deadline looms, what the new charter has not, however, addressed is the issue of awareness, communication and education needed to address taxpayers’ fundamental experience with HMRC. Yes, the new charter is seemingly more robust, but only if those who need its guidance know that it exists. Ultimately, many individuals and businesses will be unaware that the charter was there in the first place, let alone that it has been improved, which means that they will continue to struggle when they need not. It is essential, therefore, that accountants become familiar with the updated guidelines, seek to share with and educate clients on their rights, and stand firm against HMRC when the new service standards are not being met.

We are looking forward to seeing how the charter evolves in the coming months. In the meantime, you can read the new charter in full on the government website.




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