The Forum of Private Business (FPB) is urging the owners of smaller businesses to submit their self-assessment tax returns early to avoid disruption. Tax workers are voting whether to go on strike shortly before the deadline for completed forms, which is 31 January, but firms that do not get theirs in on time will still be fined £100.
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents around 70,000 HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) staff, is voting on strike action over pay, office closures, job cuts and privatisation. They could decide to walk out shortly after the ballot is declared, on 23 January, just over a week before the deadline for tax returns.
The owners of smaller businesses can post in their self-assessment forms or complete their returns online. However, with many waiting until the last minute to do so, there is often a logjam as HMRC staff struggle to process them. The delays are expected to be worse should workers decide to walk out.
“Tax returns for self-assessment schemes for the year to 5 April 2007 need to be in by 31 January 2008 in order to avoid penalties. We are advising our members to prepare their tax returns as early as possible this year so that, if any difficulties are experienced, there is time to sort them out before the deadline,” said the FPB’s Senior Member Services Representative, Philip Moody.
“The FPB’s legal helpline is available to assist our members with any problems they have. There has been a huge increase in calls on tax-related matters, which we believe is due, in part, to the tax office’s delays dealing with enquiries because of the recent merger of tax departments.”
More than nine million tax returns were issued in 2006/2007. Last year, about 150,000 self-assessment forms were received in the 24 hours before the deadline. The HMRC website was processing more than 6,000 returns an hour – more than 100 every minute.
The FPB can help entrepreneurs with the difficult process of completing their forms, thanks to its partnership with. The Business Software Centre (TBSC), which provides a range of useful tools, including accountancy software, that are available to hire.
By 2011, up to 250 HMRC offices are set to close, which will result in the loss of approximately 25,000 jobs. 13,000 workers have already been made redundant.
PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka, called the proposed cutbacks ‘lunacy’. He said the department was ‘already running on empty’.
“HMRC cannot deliver a quality service in the face of continued arbitrary cuts. The Government and the department need to recognise that HMRC needs to be properly resourced and staffed if public confidence is to be restored,” he added.
However, Mr Serwotka refused to rule out accepting government proposals for a three-year pay deal in the public sector.