The Personal Tax Accounts (PTAs) are now live, and accountants are no longer able to use their client’s credentials to log-in to the Self-Assessment portal. HMRC have explained that the personal account will not be accessible for agents.
Whilst HMRC has security issues to consider, accountants have expressed concerns about how they will complete work for clients if they do not have access to their clients’ accounts.
In order to ensure PTAs securely hold tax information for individuals, HMRC will enforce strict rules over agent’s accessing client accounts. Where previously an accountant might have used a client’s credentials to access the personal gateway, this will no longer be possible and will be considered an inappropriate security break. If an agent were to use client data in this way, it would be considered an offence. If HMRC identified inappropriate access, it would be able to take action to inform the parties affected.
Agent Online Self-Serve looks like it will be superseded by the PTAs, although accountants are still waiting to be told how they will access their clients’ data and HMRC are yet to confirm the final details. The most likely outcome is the employment of third-party software providers to create a link between the AOSS and PTA software. If this can be achieved, it would be vital to the effective implementation and minimising the impact on the accounting profession. Third-party software will enable the interaction between the accountant and the client’s account; this will then enable the accountant to review and edit the client’s accounts but through their own agent gateway.
The security and policing of access to the PTAs is still to be confirmed. The security policies are being developed and are likely to rely on IP addresses and unique addressable data. In theory this should be sufficient, but if the PTA is accessed by an agent at another IP address to that of the client, it is possible the situation could be assessed as fraud.
An additional area of contention is the ‘assured agent’ status. This is a way for HMRC to assess the tax agents, however many accountants are displeased, stating they act for their clients, not HMRC. There are also concerns that clients will judge them by their status rather than their qualifications and ability. It could lead to accountants complying with HMRC in fear of being labelled untrustworthy. There is however an argument for the status for unqualified accountants; those who are not chartered need regulation and HMRC could act as a professional body which could enforce rules of conduct and ethics.
Above all this, the biggest threat to the implementation of PTAs is access to the internet. Government research suggests that 19% of the self-employed with no employees were classified as digitally excluded. HMRC appear to be carrying on with the changes despite the number of clients unable to access the new systems. HMRC have suggested that they will ensure they have access to guidance and support when needed, which will extend to telephone filing. There will also be the opportunity to nominate a ‘trusted helper’ to manage their affairs on their behalf, such as a relative or accountant.
HMRC will implement these changes between 2018 and 2020. It is expected that further information will be released as testing at each stage is completed.