The core functionality of personal tax software is to summarise and accurately calculate the tax liabilities, based on the hugely complex rules surrounding this area. Once complete, the information needs filing with HMRC – again (mostly) done without a problem.
A “key” report as standard within the software is a list of tax returns not yet filed with HMRC, and this gradually reduces in length as we get to 31 January. But we want more than that – we want to search and report across all clients.
There is the basic ability to do some very limited data interrogation – e.g. it is possible to report on clients with rental income over a certain figure or clients over a certain age. However, this is not granular, and it is not easy to write reports to drill down further.
Inside the product there are hundreds of tables all containing information, stored in a SQL database. Even assuming you can access the tables, trying to find the information required can be similar to looking for a needle in a haystack.
We wanted to check that the Letting Allowance of £1,000 had been claimed where appropriate. Fortunately, we have an old version of Crystal Reports on the server, which was used many years ago to interrogate the practice management system at the time.
Crystal reports is very powerful, but also quite complex to use (unless of course you are a programmer).
Again, fortunately we had a report that was constructed some years ago to access the tax data tables to extract some of the rental details. A bit of trial and error and a report was obtained – not foolproof or perfect by any stretch of the imagination – but it did show gross and net rents – and by a simple mathematical formula of “gross – net” it was possible to work backwards to calculate the expenses. Another column showed the claim for Lettings Allowance.
This was a very useful and informative report, but only available because of the external reporting tool already available.
As with Crystal Reports, someone with the know-how could have obtained the information from the data tables - but how many practices or businesses have someone in house capable of doing this? Yes - there might be programmers but trying to find one to write a report that might take 5 minutes to do could be both time consuming and costly.
There are lots of other reports that might be useful from the tax information – to assist in both advisory and tax planning services and also, as in the one above, from a pure compliance and quality control viewpoint, but a full or even part-time employment cannot really be justified?
Other practice software equally contains loads of data – practice management software being a classic example. With the current cloud software in use, there is a simple “drag and drop” to select and re-order fields in a report, with various filtering capabilities. So, reporting in this case is very easy.
Can you make real use of all the data produced and collected, and if so, how do you do it?