Half of firms in scope of online income tax scheme have no digital records, HMRC research finds

Only one in five currently uses software as part of their bookkeeping set-up

An old accounting machine    Credit: Chris Kennedy/CC BY 2.0    Image has been cropped

Half of businesses in scope of the pending digitisation of the UK income tax self-assessment system do not currently keep any form of digital records, figures from HM Revenue and Customs have indicated.

As of the beginning of this month, all VAT-registered firms must make quarterly tax returns via the Making Tax Digital system. Use of the digital tax platform has already been mandatory for the last three years for VAT-registered companies with taxable annual turnover in excess of £85,000.

The expansion of the MTD programme to cover income tax self-assessment is due to take place in April 2024 – one year later than had originally been announced. The extension will cover all applicable companies and landlords with taxable income of more than £10,000 a year.

The extra 12 months before it takes place will surely be beneficial for the 48% of businesses in scope of the expansion that, according to recent HMRC research, do not even currently use spreadsheets as part of their financial record-keeping. 

Just 22% of firms that, from 2024, will be asked to report income tax digitally currently use a specialist software program to do so.

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The figures were cited by financial secretary to the Treasury Lucy Frazer in response to a written parliamentary question from shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry.

The minister reiterated that “businesses [will] have an extra year to prepare for MTD for Income Tax”.

“Free software will be available for the smallest businesses with straightforward affairs,” she added.

Only three software platforms have thus far been certified as compatible with the Making Tax Digital for Income Tax programme. Two of these offer a free version.

A further 17 publishers are “currently in the process of gaining HMRC recognition”, according to the most recent data published on GOV.UK.

By comparison, the digital VAT programme now has almost 540 products certified as compatible, including 22 that offer a free option.

“Over a third of VAT-registered businesses with taxable turnover below £85,000 have already voluntarily chosen to join MTD for VAT, demonstrating that a modern and digital approach to managing tax can work for businesses of every size,” Frazer said. “HMRC research shows that around 80% of VAT-registered businesses below the VAT threshold already employ a digital record-keeping system.”

Earlier this year HMRC published the results of a study it had commissioned into the experiences of firms that have used the digital tax system since its introduction in 2019.

The primary finding of the research, which took place in summer 2021, is that “businesses’ ongoing experiences of the costs and benefits of Making Tax Digital for VAT varied considerably, reflecting variations in businesses’ financial requirements and receptiveness to change”.

A major difference was noted in the experiences of firms using fully-compatible software – which enables end-to-end digital record-keeping – compared with those that so-called bridging software, through which firms can comply with the requirements of MTD programme by extracting tax data from spreadsheets or legacy software platforms.


Sam Trendall

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