Pre-population APIs (application programming interfaces) will allow agents using tax software products to access client data while completing self assessment (SA) returns. The APIs, which have been trialled by some software providers since April 2017, allow access to client data including employments, PAYE income and deductions, taxable benefits, Class 2 NICs and marriage allowance.
As reported on page 15 of agent update 63, HMRC had been planning that these APIs would be available in public beta form in time for the SA filing peak. HMRC has now told us that the SA pre-population service will remain in private beta over the SA peak. HMRC does not expect any more software developers to integrate with this service leading up to the peak and to ensure its stability does not want to make any changes to the status.
Personal identity verification check
Another factor in the decision to remain in private beta is the additional security step which HMRC has recently introduced for those agents and software providers who are already using the private beta service. Before using the APIs, agents now need to pass a personal identity verification check. Agents have to do this once every 18 months and once per agent self assessment code, not every time they use the service. Agents will need to answer some questions based on data HMRC holds, such as details from their UK passport or most recent P60.
Some agents have been having difficulties with the new personal identity verification check. The service will remain in private beta until the strategic solution to ensure that agent access is secure is available. The APIs give access to very sensitive income and tax data which, in the wrong hands, could be used for identity theft. Organised criminals target tax agents, so the threat is very real and, frustrating as it may be for agents, it is important that HMRC takes the appropriate measures to protect data.
Issues with pre-populated data
Members who are using the private beta service have reported two issues:
Information from HMRC
HMRC has produced FAQs on the pre-population service:
We are using the service and so far, despite the wrinkles, find it very useful. I appreciate security needs to be very tight. However, HMRC needs to communicate this more clearly and give us the option of changing the individual who is the lead person for an agent - I am the person who set up whatever is necessary in our firm, as the authorisation worked with my details but not with my colleague;'s. I assume that it draws on my passport etc details from my setting up my personal tax account - but I don't know. And when one changes one's passport, what then? Is the whole firm prevented from accessing the service? Or if I go under a bus - how does the firm get the details changed, and will it work across all taxes?