Self-assessment Tax Returns

Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 26th January 2006.

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Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons) 10:30 am, 26th January 2006

What estimate he has made of the number of individuals who will miss the deadline for submitting the self-assessment tax return in 2005–06.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

About three quarters of returns have already been received by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, and we expect the overwhelming majority to arrive by the deadline.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does the Minister agree that hard-working British taxpayers are facing fines because they are overburdened by a highly complicated tax system? Will she give an assurance today that she will simplify the tax system and spend more time chasing those who habitually avoid paying tax?

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman, as he has not noticed, that we are already doing that. We have removed more than 1 million—[Interruption.] I cannot help it if the hon. Gentleman does not do his research properly. He may have noticed that more than 1 million taxpayers have already been removed from self-assessment, and 1.5 million are now using the shortened return, which has been welcomed by the National Audit Office. In addition, the NAO's reports specifically recommended that the HMRC should use penalties in order to pursue those who persistently fail to submit their tax returns on time. That is precisely what we are doing. It is in the interest of all taxpayers and I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Government are pursuing the strategy that he advocates.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

It is a bit much for Conservative Members to talk about complexity. The system that we inherited—I speak as an accountant who was involved at the time that it was implemented—was a disastrous mess in 1995–96. It was a shambles. Will my right hon. Friend accept my thanks for improving it in the intervening nine or 10 years and introducing internet filing? Can she reassure me about one aspect on which Andrew Rosindell is right when he says that that there is unacceptable complexity—namely, the account statements sent to individuals and clients? They need to understand hieroglyphics and ancient Greek to be able to plough through such a statement.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

I assure my hon. Friend that the self-assessment system, the returns, the forms and the advice are constantly under review. It is because of those reviews that we have been able to make returns unnecessary for 1 million people, and allow a further 1.5 million to use a shortened return. I pay attention to the points that my hon. Friend makes, but I remind him and the House that the self-assessment regime collects some £17 billion a year, and the overwhelming majority of taxpayers are complying with their obligations.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The HMRC is encouraging more and more people to submit their returns via the internet, and as the deadline looms for this year, a number of my constituents and businesses have reported problems with using the internet and downloading the various forms. Can the Paymaster General look into that and reassure people that it will be a smooth process?

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

I shall certainly look into the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. Internet filing has expanded considerably and is working well, but if a huge number of people leave it right to the deadline and then try to get on to the system, I cannot say what the consequences will be in terms of waiting time. All the information provided to me as the Minister is that e-filing is working very well and taxpayers should have access to it.