HMRC needs to ramp up covid-19 time to pay guidance

With monthly PAYE payments deadlines falling due, HMRC is facing calls for more detailed guidance on the time to pay arrangements for taxpayers who are unable to pay their tax due to coronavirus, reports Pat Sweet

At Budget 2020, the Chancellor revealed HMRC had allocated up to 2,000 experienced call handlers to a specialist helpline providing information about its time to pay service in response to the current crisis.

The helpline guidance available at gov.uk states that such arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. 

They can include agreeing an instalment arrangement, suspending debt collection proceedings, and cancelling penalties and interest if an individual or business has administrative difficulties contacting or paying HMRC immediately.

However, since the initial announcement no further details have been provided. ICAEW’s tax faculty has reported it is seeking clarification on whether there will be any changes in HMRC’s usual approach to time to pay requests, and on the information which has to be submitted.

In a blog post, it pointed out that HMRC’s systems do not easily facilitate setting up a payment arrangement too far in advance, so the best time to phone HMRC is usually one to two weeks in advance of the due date for payment. This may not be possible in the current circumstances.

HMRC will usually expect to set up a regular monthly payment plan with collection by direct debit. Most HMRC debt management contact centre staff have authority to agree time to pay over a period of up to 12 months. Longer periods can be arranged but usually need to be escalated to more senior HMRC staff.

The ICAEW tax faculty said it understands that debts of more than £100,000 may have to be referred internally within HMRC. Short suspensions of collection to allow the taxpayer to take a specific action which would enable them to pay are sometimes possible.

HMRC is often reluctant to agreed repeated requests for time to pay but may be more amenable in the current situation. It may also be more willing to waive late payment penalties and any interest due, although the details are not spelt out.

Margaret Curran, CIOT technical officer for management of taxes and owner managed businesses, welcomed the introduction of a dedicated helpline, saying it was much needed response to the current problems facing businesses and the self employed.

‘We know from members’ feedback that it is operational.  It appears that waiting times are quite long, which may be down to initial teething problems, and going forward it is going to be critical that callers can get through as quickly as possible.

‘HMRC guidance so far has been very thin, and we would hope to see that expanded. For example, month 11 PAYE payments are now due and companies need to know what approach the government is going to take,’ Curran said.

Curran pointed out that more explicit guidance on payment arrangements for specific taxes and deadlines would help cut down on the number of callers to the helpline and improve response times.

HMRC coronavirus helpline number is 08000159559 - and is an addition to other HMRC phone contact numbers.

Opening hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, and Saturday 8am to 4pm. The helpline will not be available on Bank Holidays.

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