Corporation tax on-line and all that jazz

There has been a great deal in the professional tax press recently about HMRC’s intention to compel submission of corporation tax returns on-line using iXBRL from April 2011.

Quite apart from the expense issue from the taxpayer end in terms of the extra software costs required in development, it fills me with foreboding when the existing system, which is less complex, simply doesn’t work well.

I did try using HMRC’s own software on an experimental basis, but it involved downloading a huge editable PDF (Portable Document Format) file and working through various pages. Not only was it not intuitive, but it was incredibly slow on my 3Gb RAM machine so that there was time to make a cup of tea and drink it between pages. I have heard from others that their computers crashed or froze altogether before they had a chance to complete and upload the completed form.

I have wasted hours this week on an issue with a CT return using my third party software. My software provider’s FAQs said that with the error message I had I should contact HMRC’s on-line help desk, so I duly telephoned. After listening for some time to some very sub-standard tunes whilst on hold, I was told that the error messages they could see on their screen would have to be referred to the second-line team. I would be contacted.

Two days later I had heard nothing and called again to be told that coincidentally the response had just been logged in at the help desk. The answer was that they could not exactly say what the problem was but it must be somewhere in the header. I would have to go back to my software provider.

I had already deleted ampersands as I had found out that HMRC’s server likes these no more than £ signs (unbelievable that their software cannot cope with the currency of the country), but that did not solve the problem. Eventually I found the solution for myself by reading through lots of other users’ comments and guessing correctly. Apparently HMRC’s software cannot cope with a dot after Mr., Mrs. or Ms.. My client had to be styled Ms without the dot.

Now such a thing may become a “known issue” but why could HMRC’s error report not diagnose the problem, and why do error messages have to be so unintelligible? If one could be directed to the relevant box where the supposed error is it would be helpful, but apparently this is not possible.

So, do I say “bring on iXBRL? I think not, when the current system does not work and its replacement is much more complicated. I really don’t have the time.

© Jon Stow 2010

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