Calls to "mend trust" between HMRC and the self-employed

Written by: Rachel Miller

Date: 4 June 2024

Main HMRC office

Freelance body IPSE says the next government should take more responsibility for HMRC's actions to boost trust with the self-employed.

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) has launched its manifesto for the self-employed, ahead of the general election on 4th July.

"The self-employed vote is very much up for grabs at this election - more than at any election in living memory," Derek Cribb, IPSE ceo.

Under the IPSE proposal, a cabinet minister would be charged with directly overseeing the tax office. Taxpayers would also be offered more recourse when HMRC has "acted carelessly or unfairly".

IPSE ceo Derek Cribb said: "The sector is bursting with potential to get more people working, plug skills gaps and grow the economy. But this potential is being squandered by the devastating impact of late payments, careless tax enforcement and a lack of proactive policy-making catered to the millions of people who work for themselves."

He added: "At this election, the party that fully embraces the self-employed stands to gain their support. The proposals in our manifesto offers the parties the chance to do just that."

Is HMRC putting off would-be business owners?

New data from HMRC shows that the number of VAT-registered businesses in the UK has fallen from 2,464,000 in 2022/23 to 2,397,000 to 2023/2024. While the decline is partly due to the UK's weak economy, another key factor is that HMRC is making it hard to start a new business, according to accountants Lubbock Fine.

The chartered accountancy firm says that 17% of businesses (53,000 out of 314,000) applying for VAT registration with HMRC last year were unsuccessful. HMRC's caution regarding fraud in VAT applications is one factor, it says; the other key issue is the customer service crisis at HMRC. The average customer now waits over 25 minutes to get hold of a VAT officer.

Jas Dhillon, partner at Lubbock Fine, said: "HMRC's approach to small business shows no sign of improving. It is stopping new businesses from trading and hindering business expansion. The UK needs to make it as easy as possible to set up and start a business. This is bad for the Treasury as well as the wider economy. The problems are in part caused - and in turn worsened - by the sheer difficulty of getting HMRC's technical experts on the phone.

"VAT applications are often complex. It is essential that the appropriate experts can be reached swiftly. Issues must be resolved and applications approved for businesses to trade."

Why are some VAT applications unsuccessful?

According to Lubbock Fine, some VAT applications are being rejected because of misunderstandings by HMRC, particularly with regards to the description of business activities. Dhillon says: "Any small inconsistencies raise the risk of HMRC refusing an application wholesale - however small the issue."

VAT applications can also be withdrawn by the applicant business. "Many business owners are frustrated by what they see as excessive red-tape," said Dhillon. "HMRC requesting more information often feels like starting from scratch, which pressures some businesses to give up on the application prematurely."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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