Businesses must not be forced to deal with HMRC online

Published on 8 November 2011

In response to two HMRC consultations, we have said that we welcome moves to encourage businesses to communicate with the Department online. But nobody must be forced to do so - particularly if they cannot, or would find it very difficult to, use a computer or the internet.

In two consultation documents published in the summer – Digital by Default and Next Steps for Moving VAT Online – HMRC seek views on how best to get businesses to transact with them online. Responding, we have said that HMRC’s policy must take note of what Francis Maude MP said when introducing the wider Government policy on ‘digital by default’:

‘this does not mean we will abandon groups that are less likely to access the internet: we recognise that we cannot leave anyone behind. Every single government service must be available to everyone – no matter if they are online or not.’

On that basis, we have advocated, in relation both to VAT and other taxes or duties:

  • there should be no statutory requirement that people must deal with HMRC by digital means, and there must be alternatives for groups who find it impossible or difficult to transact online;
  • without satisfactory, fully safeguarded, non-paper alternatives, a paper option must be retained. And, indeed, as HMRC are maintaining that option for certain existing filers with objections to online filing on religious grounds, it would seem simple enough to allow others – for example, people with a disability preventing them from complying online – to use that same route;
  • tailored support should be available for those who wish to move online but find it hard to do so, and partial digital options could be offered for those who are content to move away from traditional paper channels.

LITRG has been supporting several business owners who have been unable to file online in appeals against VAT online filing notices. These appellants are awaiting the outcome of this consultation. Their experiences are typical of many who have difficulty in moving to digital channels.

Both LITRG responses can be found using the links below.

Digital by default – LITRG response
Next steps for moving VAT online – LITRG response

(08-11-2011)
Contact: Robin Williamson (please use form at http://www.litrg.org.uk/ContactUs)