A LEADING accountant has launched a furious broadside on tax office chiefs, labelling them ‘cynical and heartless’.
Paul Hornby spoke out against HMRC after it was announced that self-assessment customers will not receive a penalty for submitting late online tax returns if they file by February 28.
The managing director of JF Hornby and Co had joined major accountancy bodies earlier this month in calling for a relaxation of the deadline to reduce pressure on covid-hit businesses.
He said: “This is a classic case of smoke and mirrors, a token gesture from HMRC which is too little, too late.
“Hundreds of firms have paid staff overtime and, like us, have struggled to get the office in shape during a national lockdown in order to hit this deadline.
“Meanwhile tens of thousands of business owners across the country, already struggling to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, have endured stress and panic to hit the deadline, when their real focus should have been on their companies.
“As soon as lockdown started HMRC could have made this announcement, but they cynically left it to the last minute to have everyone rushing around.
“How is that sort of behaviour representative of the fantastic spirit of togetherness that we have witnessed so many times over the last year. Sadly, it shows HMRC for what they are. Heartless and completely out of touch with reality.”
The revenue body is still encouraging anyone who has not yet filed their tax return to do so by the January 31 online returns deadline, if possible.
Anyone who cannot file their return by January 31 will not receive a late filing penalty if they file online by February 28.
Taxpayers are still obliged to pay their bill by January 31, however. Interest will be charged from February 1 on any outstanding liabilities.
At JF Hornby & Co, staff have been working extended days to complete tax returns. And the volume of work has necessitated a return to the office for some team members after it was shut down to enable remote working on January 5.
Paul 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 £10million in taxes for the Treasury and ensure our clients stay on the right side of HMRC.”
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.
More than 8.9 million customers have already filed their tax return.
Late filing usually attracts an initial £100 penalty, followed by further potential charges, unless the customer has a reasonable excuse for filing late.
Support is also available for customers who may need help with their tax liabilities.
Once they have completed their 2019-20 tax return, customers can set up an online payment plan to spread self-assessment bills of up to £30,000 over up to 12 monthly instalments.
HMRC said customers with bills of more than £30,000, or who need longer than 12 months to pay their bill, can call it to discuss time to pay.