As a Campaign we’ve been interested in a consultation that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has been running recently to look at how people file their VAT returns. Since 2010 everyone has been obliged to file their returns online, unless they had objections on religious grounds or were a business in insolvency.
Last year, with the help of one of our supporters, the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, the HMRC was taken to a tribunal, who found that this rule breached human rights legislation by not taking into account a person’s ability to comply due to their age, disability, computer literacy or the remoteness of their location. This led to the consultation to which we submitted our views that there should be ways other than the internet for people to submit their returns.
Now HMRC is looking at making amendments to its rules, which will not only provide a dedicated service so that people who can’t get online can file their VAT over the phone, but also – if it is not reasonably practicable for them to do either – to permit them to file on paper!
While we feel it would be preferable to allow all people to be able to choose the way they want to file, it is encouraging that our concerns are being heeded in the case of vulnerable taxpayers who were facing great difficulty in complying with the HMRC’s rules, and that these alternative services are being provided.
Now, it is vital that HMRC follow through on their commitment to promote their telephone and paper filing service as widely as possible so that we can ensure that all people who are eligible to utilise the service are aware of it.
I met with the HMRC myself, and found them very open to the Campaign’s issues – they even invited us to attend a digital day held last month. I’m hoping this means more will be done in future for those without the internet as more and more Government services are moved online. As we often say, we’re not anti-digital – if people want to file their information online they should have the choice to do so. There is now some chink of light for those who can’t.