Forum of Private Business welcomes HMRC transparency, but remains critical of their query response times.

On behalf of small businesses, the Forum has both challenged and worked with HMRC to improve their performance and transparency. They have not been slow in criticising deficiencies when appropriate, but welcome Jim Harra’s public letter yesterday reassuring small businesses that the digital Tax changes will be introduced sensitively.

Mr Harra published a letter in the Financial Times as follows:

"HM Revenue & Customs will not be asking anyone to file accounts five times a year, nor will we be introducing in-year quarterly payments. Businesses will simply send in-year updates to HMRC using information collated automatically by the same software used to record day-to-day transactions. This will help businesses pay the right amount of tax, taking away the need to put things right at a later date.

Businesses already keeping their records digitally should see no additional costs at all. Free software will be there for businesses with the most straightforward affairs, and we are looking at additional assistance with transitional costs.

We fully recognise that this is a significant change for some businesses, which is why we’re introducing it gradually as well as exempting some of our smallest businesses, but at the heart of digital transformation is a simpler, more efficient tax system that frees business people from red tape and form-filling"

In response to this, Ian Cass, Chief Executive of the Forum commented, ‘Forum members will be pleased to hear this, as there were stories of quarterly returns, higher costs through increased accountants fees and more time spent on tax affairs, rather than on the business, so Mr Harra’s confirmation that smaller businesses will be exempt and those who do have to file digitally will simply send in a once a year update is good news.

I should also add that this kind of open communication from HMRC is to be welcomed.”

Reassurance of open communication has also been experienced recently by the Forum through communications from Stephen Hardwick, HMRC's communications director, looking at their results to date. ‘This published current performance results,’ said Ian Cass, ‘pointing to 89% of calls being handled within 6 minutes, with the average response time being 5 minutes. On the face of it this is good news, but we still see too many examples of members waiting 45 minutes for calls to be answered.’

Postal responses too remain unsatisfactory according to the Forum. ‘It takes HMRC 15 days to respond to 80% of their post and 40 days to respond to 98% of it. We have called for a material improvement to this performance.

Good news for the nation is that the tax collected has increased by £1.2bn. What is not clear is whether this is at the expense of small or big business. Ian Cass adds, ‘It's good to see the revenues collected going up particularly if it's coming from the big multinationals who have not been paying their fair share. But as it says in the song "it ain't what you do, its the way that you do it." The Forum we would like to see HMRC measuring business satisfaction as one of their targets around customer service. ‘If those numbers were high and the revenue was up, I'm sure the Forum's members would be even happier,’ concludes Ian Cass.

About Forum of Private Business

The Forum of Private Business is a not-for-profit comprehensive business support organisation founded in 1977. Our membership is spread throughout the UK and primarily made up of companies that employ between 1-50 employees, helping them to manage employees, saving time, giving advice, support and protection where a business needs it. We are a recognised leading authority on business issues and represent the interests of business owners on many consultative bodies. We have built a solid reputation, being influential in many areas of policy-making, in changing laws that affect small businesses, and we continue to campaign for the fair treatment of businesses within the UK. Everything we do is about making sure our members’ businesses operate profitably. This means that every penny we make goes back in to supporting our members, providing the support and resources that will enable businesses to flourish and grow.

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