Mission impossible for accountants

Chartered accountants are saying that among the complexities of new financial rules ahead the new PAYE reporting system being introduced by HMRC is the one ‘impossible’ as Nick Lambert explains.

Nick LambertAccountants are particularly concerned about the impact that the new requirements, known as Real Time Information (RTI), will have on smaller businesses.

As a profession, we feel the proposals are at best unrealistic and, at worst, impossible. They create a new burden on businesses - and this despite HMRC publishing proposals to explain when employers will be allowed extra time to send in information to HMRC.

PAYE is the system that HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) uses to collect income tax and national insurance contributions (NICs). Currently, employers must deduct this from their employees’ wages and pay HMRC either monthly or quarterly.

Under RTI, an electronic return will have to be made to HMRC “on or before” a payment is made to an employee. If the return is not made on time then the employer is potentially liable to penalties.

While complying with the RTI requirements may be relatively straightforward for larger businesses, many smaller businesses will find it difficult and sometimes impossible to cope with. For example:

• Firms employing low paid workers that have to receive advances of salary before payday to live. Under RTI the employer will have to submit an RTI return within seven days of an advance of salary payment.

• A pub landlord calling in some extra help as he has a busy night ahead. Currently many such employers would only run their payrolls monthly. Under RTI they will have to do so within seven days of such payments being made. This is a significant increase in reporting obligations.

The above examples show that the “on or before” requirement – even with the relaxation to “within seven days” - will not work for many businesses. It’s not yet clear what HRMC will do if faced with widespread non-compliance by employers.

Will they apply penalties or turn a blind eye? Either way, the requirement could inflict serious damage to the credibility of the UK tax system. HMRC is now proposing extra time for employers in some cases.

But this would only be an extra seven days. ICAEW (the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) has called for employers to be required to file monthly.

The “on or before” rule, even as amended completely, ignores how the real world works. It will add significantly to compliance costs and burdens for many small and medium sized businesses.

Even if all employers complied with the “on or before” requirement, it is difficult to see how HMRC could reconcile easily all the information it would receive. So we propose a single RTI return on the 19th of the month following the month of payment – this is the same as the normal PAYE due date, and will be familiar to all employers.

Nick Lambert is president of the Northern Society of Chartered Accountants