HMRC Agent Services update June 2016

The future direction of HMRC’s services for agents is becoming clearer

HMRC’s Talking Points webinar on Agent Services on 19 May gave further information about HMRC’s plans to give agents access to client data on HMRC’s systems and the developments expected in 2016/17.

Those who missed the session can listen to it again here. The recording is the HMRC presentation only and does not include the question and answer session that followed.

The developments are in four areas.

Giving agents access to data in clients’ personal and business digital tax accounts
Information held in clients’ digital tax accounts is expected to be available to agents only through using commercial software; it is very unlikely that there will be a web-based service. This approach  is primarily for strategic reasons. HMRC’s strategy is to provide data via APIs (Application Data Interfaces) and commercial software rather than introducing digital accounts for agents.

A secondary reason is that this provides a practical solution to the problem of how HMRC gives access to individuals working in larger and multiple office firms and to agents who are only authorised for some taxes. This approach also allows HMRC to make the data available much more quickly than they could if they were to develop web-based services.

We have sought reassurances from HMRC about the future of the current web-based services for agents (including the current private beta service which gives access to employer PAYE data). HMRC has said that no decision has yet been made about its existing services but that the strategy is API first and HMRC will consider web-based solutions for agents only if a need which is not being met by commercial software is identified.

More detail about HMRC’s API work is available on the blog for tax agents and HMRC’s digital blog.

Agent authorisation
HMRC intends to develop the existing online authorisation service and to replace the PIN in the post system. The concern is that the replacement service may involve the client accessing a digital account to give authority which would not be practical in many cases and would not meet the expectations of agents or clients. It is not clear that HMRC has thought through the ramifications to allow, for example, for more can one agent to have access concurrently for the same tax.

Registering as an agent
HMRC intends to start collecting information about agents, starting with sole practitioners. It will begin with quite basic data initially. The quality of HMRC’s current information about agents, how many clients they represent, whether they are members of a professional body etc is currently poor. In time this information will feed into HMRC’s agent view and strategy.

Secure messaging
HMRC intends to introduce an option to allow agents to send messages and information to it online securely. HMRC acknowledges that the technological solution to allow this is straightforward, but it needs to reorganise its staffing to have the correct structure in place (otherwise there is a risk that poor post and call handling issues are replaced by delays in dealing with information provided electronically). 
  • Agent Authorisation - how is an agent going to get authorisation to deal with a deceased client's affairs? Is the Executor of the deceased client supposed to set up a "digital account" to give authority to the agent? Many Executors are elderly, have simple tax affairs so will not themselves be in SA. They are also likely to be "digitally challenged." Have HMRC given any thought to this?

  • What is the perceived problem with the current system?  By and large it works (although occasionally one has to use the paper forms anyway)

  • OH MY GOD!

    When will they stop moving the goal posts and re-inventing the wheel?!

    API's = Move the cost of developing agent access from HMRC onto software providers and therefore onto us/our customers.

    Apart from the fact there will still be loads of cost on HMRC to verify/test the interfaces and still have a back end processing the data. All HMRC will avoid is the revised web-based user interface for agents which they are half way through developing already.

    As for requiring clients to access their digital accounts to authorise agents, I would say about 75% of my client base wouldn't know how and wouldn't want to be bothered setting up an HMRC digital account because they are paying me to deal with HMRC!!