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Disbelief as online tax system shut.

Byline: Karen Dent

THE taxman is coming under fire for closing its IT system over Easter, which coincides with the end of the current tax year for thousands of small firms.

The network, including the parts used by businesses to pay tax, was closed from last Thursday until today, and in some cases, tomorrow.

It means that self-assessment and PAYE agents and customers will not be able to file tax returns for the new tax year until the services have been upgraded.

However, VAT customers were able to pay online up to the official deadline of midnight last Saturday. Although HMRC said that the shutdown would count as sufficient excuse for late payments, the Forum of Private Business (FPB) criticised the closure.

FPB chief executive, Phil Orford, said: "Many firms will find it hard to understand why HMRC has chosen to do a major upgrade to its IT systems at such an important time of the year in the tax calendar.

"With regards VAT returns, if this shutdown does lead to problems and customers find they cannot file their returns on time, we would hope HMRC has put in place a plan and is ready to deal with the fallout quickly and efficiently for those affected.

"We know from our members' own experiences in the past, however, that once a fine has been issued because of HMRC mistakes, it can take months and months of wrangling to sort out and for firms to be reimbursed.

"While HMRC says this is a routine shutdown and has been planned, it will come as little solace for those businesses affected. The fact it was only announced last week as well shows little understanding for the needs of businesses."

The forum has been contacted by members concerned about the timing and possible impact of HMRC's actions.

Rachel Andrews, who runs Andrews Computers, said: "I make my living teaching people how to do this and supporting them through the process, and my diary has been booked with client appointments since January.

"HMRC announced this just last week.

"Where is the commitment from them to give us timely warning and fair notice? "This simply shows a spectacular lack of insight on their part. HMRC needs to stop this stupidity and make a commitment to business owners to treat them fairly, and give fair warning of events like this, and to not close over busy periods."

"Mid-month, over the summer is fine. Alternatively, why not close it in February when there are no major deadlines? "Why April, when it's payroll year-end?"
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 10, 2012
Words:424
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