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HMRC Updates: Changes to Helpline Services and Tax Support

In the dynamic landscape of taxation, the UK’s HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has made some notable changes to its helpline services and support offerings. As we navigate the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and seek to understand the implications for tax reporting, it’s important to stay informed about these changes. In this article, we’ll delve into the recent developments, including the closure of one helpline and the reopening of another, as well as an extension of a trial program, and new tax incentives on the horizon.

Covid-19 Support Schemes: A Recap

Over the past couple of years, HMRC has played a pivotal role in administering various Covid-19 support schemes. These include initiatives like the “Eat Out to Help Out” payments, the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), and grants aimed at providing financial relief to businesses affected by the pandemic. Professionals and businesses have heavily relied on these schemes, not only for their economic impact but also because many of these payments and grants need to be reported on tax returns, such as the company tax return for Corporation Tax or the Self-Assessment return for Income Tax.

Closure of the Covid Helpline

As we move forward and gradually emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, HMRC has announced changes to its support services. Specifically, the Covid Helpline (0800 024 1222), which was established in March 2020 to assist with Covid-19-related queries, is set to close on 18 September 2023. While the rationale behind this move is understandable—given the winding down of Covid-19 support payments and grants—it’s crucial to remember that there are still record-keeping requirements associated with these schemes. Even though the schemes themselves have come to an end, the obligations tied to them persist.

It’s worth noting that the closure of the Covid Helpline applies to direct support provided to businesses and self-employed individuals. However, if you’re using agent services or have an HMRC online account for agents, rest assured that this support will remain available.

The Reopening of the Self-Assessment Helpline

On 12 June 2023, HMRC temporarily closed its Self-Assessment helpline (0300 200 3310) for the summer season. The decision was justified by HMRC on the grounds that the summer months typically see a lower volume of Self-Assessment queries, and online guidance and digital resources continue to be accessible. Fortunately, this helpline is set to reopen on 04 September 2023, providing taxpayers with the necessary support as they navigate their Self-Assessment responsibilities.

Extending the Agent Account Manager Trial

In a recent development that bodes well for agents and taxpayers alike, HMRC has extended its Agent Account Manager (AAM) trial. Originally launched on 10 July 2023, this trial allowed registered agents to address postal queries that had been outstanding for a year or more. The trial’s success prompted HMRC to indefinitely extend its duration. This represents a positive step toward resolving backlogs of queries, streamlining communication, and ensuring smoother interactions between agents and HMRC.

Correcting Errors in the Employer Bulletin

The Employer Bulletin, a bi-monthly publication by HMRC, is a valuable resource for employers and agents seeking up-to-date information on various tax-related matters. However, errors can sometimes find their way into these publications. In the August 2023 edition of the Employer Bulletin, an error was identified in the section titled ‘Correcting payroll mistakes for an earlier tax year.’ The initial advice provided in the bulletin regarding correcting over-deductions of Student Loan repayments was incorrect. HMRC rectified this error by deleting the erroneous article, underlining the importance of accuracy and thoroughness in tax-related publications.

Introduction to Investment Zone Employer NICs Relief (IZENR)

As the UK continues to explore avenues for economic growth and development, HMRC has introduced Investment Zone Employer NICs Relief (IZENR). Set to take effect from April 2024, this initiative is aligned with the concept of Investment Zones, which were initially introduced in the Growth Plan of September 2023. These zones were designed to provide targeted tax reliefs and planning flexibility to support employment, investment, and home ownership. While the original Growth Plan was substantially revised, Investment Zones remained a key focus, and the program was refined in the November 2022 Autumn Statement.

IZENR introduces four new National Insurance category letters—N, E, K, and D—designed to facilitate relief in payroll systems starting from the 2024/25 tax year. This initiative aims to encourage economic activities within designated Investment Zones, offering not only National Insurance relief for employers but also a range of tax incentives. These incentives encompass Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) relief, business rates reliefs, plant and machinery investment relief (Corporation Tax), and enhanced allowances for certain expenses (Corporation Tax and Capital Gains Tax). The geographical scope of Investment Zones includes regions around Aberdeen and Glasgow in Scotland and several areas in England.

Important Tax Dates in September

As always, staying on top of tax-related deadlines is crucial for individuals and businesses alike. Here are some key dates to keep in mind for the month of September:

  • 7th: VAT payment deadline for accounting periods ending on 31 July 2023.
  • 19th: Deadline for submitting the Employer Payment Summary (EPS) for the tax month ending on 05 September 2023. Deadline for paying all PAYE, NICs, Student Loans, and CIS deductions (excluding child-related statutory payments) using non-electronic methods.
  • 22nd: Deadline for paying all PAYE, NICs, Student Loans, and CIS deductions (excluding child-related statutory payments) using electronic methods. HMRC must receive cleared funds by this date.
  • 30th: Corporation Tax Self-Assessment (CTSA) deadline for returns to HMRC for accounting periods ending on 30 September 2022.

In conclusion, HMRC’s recent changes to its helpline services and support offerings reflect the evolving tax landscape and the need to adapt to new circumstances. From the closure of the Covid Helpline to the extension of the Agent Account Manager trial and the introduction of Investment Zone Employer NICs Relief (IZENR), these developments underscore the importance of staying informed and up-to-date in the realm of taxation. As taxpayers and professionals, it’s essential to embrace these changes, leverage the available resources, and meet tax-related responsibilities with accuracy and confidence.

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