The HMRC Stakeholder Conference – representing your views
Chris Campbell reviews and reflects on the recent HMRC Stakeholder Conference attended by the ICAS Tax team on behalf of members.
What is the HMRC Stakeholder Conference?
The ICAS Tax team recently attended the HMRC Stakeholder Conference in London. The conference was a gathering of over 200 representatives from several professional bodies, along with other key stakeholders in the tax system, such as software developers and trade bodies.
After an opening address from HMRC First Permanent Secretary and CEO Jim Harra and Deputy Chief Executive and Second Permanent Secretary Angela MacDonald, a significant part of the day was spent in smaller workshops covering the areas of tax simplification, small business issues, customer challenges, intermediaries and UK border issues.
The workshops were an excellent opportunity for two way communication and to relay feedback from ICAS members on HMRC service levels, as feedback could be focused specifically on the subject area of each session. For example, stressing the impact of a delayed tax refund on the cash flow of a smaller business, who may need the refund to have the cash to pay the wages bill at the end of the month, was flagged in the small business issues workshop. Additionally, the frustrations that members have shared with ICAS about delays of over 45 minutes in getting through to HMRC on the telephone, were raised in the same workshop.
A separate session on intermediaries enabled us to relay feedback on the importance of tax agents in communications with HMRC and the need for HMRC to give more consideration to tax agents, who will often be better able than the taxpayer themselves to assist with a HMRC query. HMRC could assist such matters by writing to both an agent and their client, ensuring that references are used in correspondence so that agents can identify which client the correspondence relates to.
A digital first approach?
Jim Harra did not shy away from the challenges that are currently being faced by HMRC, although stressed that their ability to increase staffing in times of squeezed departmental budgets and high inflation was somewhat limited.
The key message from HMRC was a desire for taxpayers and their agents to do more business digitally. Angela MacDonald highlighted the 31 January Income Tax Self Assessment deadline, where more than 97% of returns were submitted to HMRC on time and more than 96% submitted electronically.
The functionality of the HMRC mobile app, in terms of allowing taxpayers to ‘self serve’, was also mentioned. It also appears to be popular (I must admit I have used it myself!), as almost 40 million logins were recorded in 2022/23.
A digital focused approach is the clear direction of travel for HMRC, based on their view that allowing taxpayers to self serve will free up time for them to assist those taxpayers who are digitally excluded. The use of digital is supported by ICAS, but at the conference we were keen to stress that HMRC’s digital capability needs to be expanded so that more tasks can be carried out online that currently require a phone call.
ICAS does however feel that the use of digital methods should not be mandatory for everyone and that alternative, non-digital channels should be made available. Adequate resourcing is also still needed in order for HMRC to deliver better service generally. This is explained in our MTD Strategy Booklet. ICAS also recently published a joint letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, encouraging him to increase HMRC resources as part of the Spring Budget on 15 March 2023.
HMRC’s digital first preference may be desirable in terms of achieving its goal to be a leading digital tax authority, but the key to achieving this is to ensure that these digital methods are useful and easy to use, so that taxpayers will want to use them instead of traditional methods. Further progress clearly needs to be made by HMRC in achieving this, and this matter is something that the ICAS Tax team will continue to provide feedback on via our usual forums in the coming months.
Let us know your views
We welcome members’ input to inform our work on consultations or other tax-related matters – email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your insights and feedback. ICAS responds to many tax calls for evidence and consultations, as well as producing tax policy papers and reports. We also regularly attend meetings with HMRC at which service levels, delays and other issues are discussed, and we raise problems being encountered by members.