Complicated tax systems waste time and money and create hassle for everyone.
They lead to more errors and higher costs, less understanding, and ultimately lower compliance. Some would also argue they deter overseas investment.
So could we do better?
Change is possible according to Bill Dodwell, the tax director of the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS). Here’s how.
Simplify or replace?
Some argue in order to have a tax system fit for the 21st century, it’s necessary to start again.
The Mirrlees Review from the Institute for Fiscal Studies set out thinking along those lines.
However, as the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) has pointed out, making major changes to the tax system in the UK would itself increase complexity through the transition.
It’s not the way to go.
Working with what we’ve got
Steps to achieving a simpler tax system in the 2020s need to work with the existing tax system.
The Personal Tax Account needs to become the main interaction between taxpayers and HMRC.
This requires investment – but the prize is a system that would be simpler and less costly for both HMRC and taxpayers.
Let HMRC collect more information
One of the big steps needed is to mandate greater information reporting to HMRC.
Taxpayers would derive huge benefit if they could see all their income sources and, where relevant, expenses, in one place.
Some data will need to be supplied by taxpayers but much will come from employers, banks, pension companies, charities and platforms and other engagers of the self-employed.
Simplifying tax for the self-employed
Self-employment has grown in popularity over recent years. Around a third of income tax-payers now complete an annual tax return.
Filing a tax return works for many. However, some of those working freelance or in the gig economy might welcome alternatives.
For example, they could find it better to report information and pay tax to HMRC periodically or on the completion of work assignments, rather than only through self-assessment.
The OTS has just launched a study on aspects of reporting and paying tax.
The outcome for taxpayers should be easier understanding of their income, tax liabilities and tax credits – as well as the ability to share data with other software and apps, such as budgeting software.
AAT accountants oppose change
AAT members disagree about the best approach to simplification. A survey of Licensed Accountants said the OTS’s proposals would increase work, add complexity and bring few benefits.
HMRC should set out the vision
This vision needs a roadmap from HMRC into which data providers and others can contribute.
We will need to move to use of a single reference number to link everything accurately, such as the National Insurance number.
That way, everyone can understand what data will be needed, the format, and when it will be required.
We can achieve that over the coming decade – with the right ambition and investment.
The promise of lower costs, less work and higher recovery make it a goal worth pursuing.
Read more on tax as part of our #AATPowerUp Tax 2020 campaign for September and October:
- Power up your tax knowledge with AAT
- How MTD for income tax will shape the digital landscape
- How green taxes will shake up life in the UK
- 5 ways HMRC could plug the tax gap
Photo by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash.
AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.