The headlines after the Summer Budget were all about the ‘death of the tax return’ and the end of the 31 January panic. This is all part of the government’s digital strategy, under which the vast majority of interactions with HMRC will be via digital means rather than on paper or by phone.
Some aspects of the digital strategy, such as the pre-population of returns with information such as pay and tax details or bank and interest received have been broadly welcomed, but it is fair to say that there is still a lot of concern about how things will actually work in a digital environment and at the moment there is limited information about what will replace the tax return and what deadlines will apply in future. I am expecting that we will get some much needed clarity about these issues in the statement. The timetable which has been set for the digital transformation seems very ambitious, but without knowing the detail is it hard to take a view on whether it is achievable in a way which allows the undoubted benefits to arise without creating collateral damage in the process. I remain cautiously optimistic, but will, I hope, feel more confident when I see the details of what exactly is going to happen and when.
Make no mistake, HMRC is rethinking its entire approach to the way that it does business – the recent announcement of the closure of local tax offices and their replacement by 13 major centres is evidence enough of this – and the digital strategy is fundamental to the success of its transformation programme. The stakes are very high, and it is imperative that ensuring the public and business confidence in the programme is an integral part of the transformation agenda.
Meantime, don’t get carried away by the headlines. If you’ve not done your 2014-15 tax return yet don’t ignore the deadline - 31 January 2016 is still the filing date.