ICAS (the Scottish professional body of chartered accountants) last week published results of its survey of its members, that shows that SMEs are receiving a poor service from HMRC.
The survey findings highlighted that local compliance offices, which handle the tax affairs of small businesses, were rated as poor or very poor by 65% of the respondents.
Elspeth Orcharton, Assistant Director of Tax at ICAS, said:
"The UK’s largest businesses are given good service through customer relationship managers in HMRC’s large business services department, created in 2007. However, the demand this has placed on resources has resulted in poorer services for the majority of smaller businesses.
HMRC’s operating and staffing systems are simply inadequate to support compliance with what has become one of the most complex self-assessed tax systems in the world.
Unaddressed this will become a threat to public finances and closing the tax gap.
Almost half the members who responded were happy with the technical skills of HMRC staff handling phone calls, once they had found someone with suitable knowledge, but getting to speak to such a person remains a problem. HMRC’s contact and management systems need to be fit for purpose so that people don’t feel they are being passed from pillar to post."
The HMRC department responsible for collecting tax payments, debt recovery and ‘time to pay’ arrangements also scored low in the survey. The debt management and banking division saw 60% of respondents rating it poor or very poor.
The survey results highlight that HMRC’s debt management processes are disjointed.
"Aggressive collection tactics are too often used to pursue tax not actually due, and communications between the different parts of HMRC need to be improved."
ICAS points out that the disappointing figures reflect the difficulties met by experienced accountants and tax professionals, raising even wider concerns about the impact on unrepresented taxpayers lacking equivalent expertise.
Tax does have to be taxing.
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