The President of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), Gary Ashford, also called on the Government to resource HMRC to provide the level of service taxpayers need.
Speaking at the CIOT’s Parliamentary Reception in Westminster, Gary Ashford will also said that he hoped Parliament will reprieve the Office of Tax Simplification at the Finance Bill’s report stage next week but that, if it doesn’t, the Government must deliver on its commitment to embed simplification into its systems. He called on parliamentarians to help hold them to this.
On the closure of the self-assessment helpline until September, Mr Ashford said: “For those of you who missed it, HMRC has announced that it is closing its Self-Assessment Helpline for three months, directing taxpayers to its digital services instead. The rationale is that this will free up advisers to take calls on other lines and answer correspondence.
“Has it really come to this? That to deal with demand and backlogs in other areas HMRC has to shut one of its best-used helplines for three months? A helpline that more than a million people called during this period last year.
“Surely the first rule of tax compliance has to be that you make it as easy as possible for those trying to comply to do so? This helpline closure is another flashing indicator that HMRC can’t cope with everything it is being tasked with.
“Businesses are being left unable to operate while waiting for registrations. Taxpayers are being left waiting many months for repayments. Taxpayers and their advisers are being left in limbo, unable to get timely answers to their legitimate queries.
"It is not enough to simply shift people around. HMRC has to be adequately resourced to provide the services taxpayers need.”
On the abolition of the Office of Tax Simplification, Mr Ashford said: "Some people say – and I agree with them – that in the 11 years since the OTS was set up the tax system has continued to get more complex. But that’s to miss the point.
“You don’t fire the person with a bucket because they are bailing out water slower than the boat is taking it in. You give them a bigger bucket, or assign extra people to the task, or, better still, you plug the leak.
“Instead of scrapping the OTS the Government should have strengthened it – giving it a louder voice, a wider remit and greater resources. That is what we argued for.
“Next week there is a final chance for Parliament to reprieve the OTS. I hope they take it. But if, as I fear is likelier, its abolition goes through, then the Government must deliver on their commitment to ‘embed tax simplification into the institutions of Government’. Alongside other bodies, we’ve suggested some ways they could do on this. We met with the Financial Secretary last month to discuss these, and we will be keeping up the pressure. I hope others – including parliamentarians – will too.”
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