Covid security tightened as accountancy firm returns to office amid race to process £10m in tax returns

January 25, 2021

STAFF at one of Cumbria’s biggest accountancy firms are racing to process £10 million in tax returns as HMRC’s January 31st deadline approaches.

Team members at JF Hornby & Co had moved to remote working following the Prime Minister’s decision to plunge England into another lockdown from January 5.

But after seeking guidance from Barrow and Furness MP, Simon Fell, key staff members have now moved back to the office, where the task can be tackled more efficiently.

Managing director, Paul Hornby, said: “Since the first lockdown was announced last March, we have done everything in our power to support our team with remote working and when it became possible, a safe return to the office.

“The reality of this time of year, however, is that we are dealing with tens of thousands of documents, many hundreds of individual tax returns and need access to systems that require stable internet connectivity. The returns we administer will result in up to £10 million in taxes for the Treasury and ensure our clients stay on the right side of HMRC.

“The team working from home has certainly added pressures to what is already a very busy time of the year due to lost connectivity and the vast movement of paper records. The prospect of missed deadlines and fines was very real.

“The issue needed to be raised and I was delighted that Simon recognised the importance of the service we are delivering and was able to offer guidance and support for us to return to the office in safe numbers and with the right measures in place.”

A limited number of people have now returned to the covid-secure offices of JF Hornby & Co in Ulverston where they are working to hit the January 31 deadline whilst also offering a service for clients who do not have access to digital devices.

Earlier this month, Paul laid bare his views on HMRC’s refusal to relax the tax return deadline, saying it would lead to chaos and hardship.

In the letter to Simon Fell where he sought guidance on lockdown working restrictions, he also reiterated those views, adding: “Many of our clients are struggling to get their records to accountants and with many shielding, isolating, and basically told to stay at home you would have hoped for some sympathy [from HMRC]. I would like you to look at this but I appreciate it may be too late and I don’t feel hopeful there will be a U-turn.”

HMRC came under further fire last week, when a group of influential MPs said the Government’s out-of-date systems had allowed people to fall through the cracks for Covid support and made it harder to assess levels of fraud.

Meg Hillier, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said that many workers had been left behind by Government support schemes because HM Revenue and Customs has old tax systems.

“As public spending balloons to unprecedented levels in response to the pandemic, out-of-date tax systems are one of the barriers to getting help to a significant number of struggling taxpayers who should be entitled to support,” she said.

“And the system is going to struggle, and in many cases fail, to capture or deal with those wrongly claiming it.”

She was speaking as the PAC released a report urgently calling on HMRC to explain why some taxpayers have had no support during the pandemic. This has impacted some people who should have been eligible for furlough payments, including some of the self-employed and freelancers.

At the same time, while some have been left without any income, there are several examples of large companies which have taken support from the Government, yet continued to pay out dividends to shareholders and high salaries to executives.

The PAC called on HMRC to explain, within six weeks, why it cannot help some freelancers and other groups who have been left out of support and consider how it can support others who have fallen through the cracks.

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