So at last some common sense has prevailed. The Government or HMRC (it is not entirely clear which is pushing this project so hard) have at last decided that the pace of the introduction of Making Tax Digital (MTD) will be slowed but only for businesses.
MTD is a major project which will affect all aspects of the tax system over time:
Making Tax Digital is a key part of the government's plans to make it easier for individuals and businesses to get their tax right and keep on top of their affairs - meaning the end of the annual tax return for millions.
Every individual and business now has access to their own personalised digital tax account and these are being regularly expanded and improved. HMRC's ambition is to become one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world, modernising the tax system to make it more effective, more efficient and easier for customers to comply.
In terms of the business element the changes recently announced include:
- Businesses will not now be mandated to use the Making Tax Digital for Business system until April 2019 and then only to meet their VAT obligations. This will apply to businesses who have a turnover above the VAT threshold - the smallest businesses will not be required to use the system, although they can choose to do so voluntarily.
- The government has committed that it will not widen the scope of Making Tax Digital for Business beyond VAT before the system has been shown to work well, and not before April 2020 at the earliest. This will ensure that there is time to test the system fully and for digital record keeping to become more widespread.
- All businesses and landlords will have at least two years to adapt to the changes before being asked to keep digital records for other taxes.
HMRC have also laid out how they will proceed:
'We will start to pilot Making Tax Digital for VAT by the end of this year, starting with small-scale, private testing, followed by a wider, live pilot starting in Spring 2018. This will allow for well over a year of testing before any businesses are mandated to use the system. No business will be mandated before 2019.'
So good so far.
However, the underlying MTD project continues apace. HMRC refer to the four foundations of MTD:
'1. Better use of information
Making Tax Digital presents significant benefits for our customers. It will mean that they will not have to give HMRC information that it already has, or that it is able to get from elsewhere - for instance from employers, banks, building societies and other government departments.
Digital tax accounts for all will mean that customers can see the information that HMRC holds and be able to check at any time that their details are complete and correct. HMRC will use this information to tailor the service it provides, according to each of our customers' individual circumstances.
Our customers should not have to wait until the end of the year or longer to know how much tax they should pay. HMRC will collect and process information affecting tax as close to real time as possible, to help prevent errors and stop tax due or repayments owed building up.
At the moment most taxpayers cannot see a single picture of their liabilities and entitlements in one place - we are changing that. By 2020, customers will be able to see a comprehensive financial picture in their digital account, just like they can with online banking.
Our customers (and their agents) will be able to interact with HMRC digitally and at a time to suit them. They already have access to a digital account which will present them with an increasingly personalised picture of their tax affairs, along with prompts, advice and support through webchat and secure messaging. And digital record keeping software will be linked directly to HMRC systems, allowing customers to send and receive information directly from their software.
Making Tax Digital for individuals
The Personal Tax Account brings together each individual customer's information in one online place. It allows customers to access the service from a digital device of their choice and at a time that suits them. It enables them to register for new services, update their information and see how much tax they need to pay.
At the moment, the information that HMRC receives from a range of sources is held on separate stand-alone systems, which can result in customers being asked to report, via a Self Assessment tax return, information that is already held by HMRC. HMRC is joining up these internal systems and will automatically include information it holds about a customer's circumstances or income in their digital account, meaning the customer will not have to do this themselves.
Under Self Assessment, over 10 million customers fill in a tax return to tell HMRC about their circumstances and income. This is a burden for customers and inefficient for HMRC as well: mistakes can be made or the information can be wrong or submitted too late, meaning the right tax is not collected at the right time and HMRC has to take action. This can lead to penalties and interest charges for the customer which could have been avoided.
More effective use of third party information, that is, information provided to HMRC by someone other than the customer or their agent, will reduce the reporting burden on customers and reduce errors, making it easier to declare the right tax.
As the Personal Tax Account develops, customers will use it to tell us when things change. Over time, customers will no longer need to complete tax returns at the end of the year.
We are beginning by using information HMRC already holds and will make better use of this by connecting it with customers and displaying it in their tax account.'
Personal tax accounts are all well and good but will the data which HMRC pre-populate actually be correct, will the taxpayer be able to overwrite it and will it come with an obligation to look at it, with penalties if you don't?
These are but a few of the questions yet to be addressed by HMRC.