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HMRC Agent Research

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: General, News and Updates

In the last few days, you might have received a letter signed by Business Tax Director General, Jim Harra. As the letter explains, HMRC has commissioned independent research company TNS BMRB to carry out a survey for us. We want to understand more about agents’ use of digital services now - and the support you may need in future, as we increasingly offer more services online.

I hope you will consider participating in this important survey as we really need to know what you think. 

We estimate that there are around 43,000 professional, paid agents’ entities operating in the UK.  These range from sole traders to international companies, excluding those who work in the voluntary sector or on behalf of friends and family.

TNS BMRB will contact a random sample of paid agents and carry out 1700 telephone interviews. They will select around 30 agents to test the questionnaire to begin with – thanks if you have helped with this already.

Following any necessary adjustments, HMRC will issue invitation letters for the rest of the 1700 interviews, which will be carried out between 10 March and 25 April.

The questions are designed to give us a better understanding of the tasks agents carry out on their clients’ behalf – and to explore your attitudes to HMRC and the use of digital services. Follow-up interviews and focus groups will be conducted with some survey participants who are happy to explore the issues in more depth.

TNS BMRB will not give us the names of the agents they have interviewed and all responses to the survey will be anonymised and amalgamated before being given to HMRC.

Of course, you don’t have to wait for an invitation to tell us what you think about our digital services - you can let us know by responding to this blog. Do you use them now? If so, what could we do to make them better?

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  1. Comment by Praddy posted on

    Interesting to hear HMRC is planning to work closer with Agents.
    The key issues Agents face,
    - Getting hold of HMRC for information and technical assistance
    - The confusion in regards to 64-8 approval process
    - Limitation with the online account/services

    It will be great to have a blog/email service for VAT/PAYE/Income Tax/ CT etc. Agents should be able to contact HMRC easily. Currently there's a long wait and it's not clear which department we should contact. Also the technical skills of the HMRC call centre are quite limited. I spoke to HMRC in regards to loss relief question and no one in the team was able to provide the necessary info.

  2. Comment by San Deep posted on

    1. As correctly pointed out by Praddy above, "Agents should be able to contact HMRC easily. Currently there's a long wait and it's not clear which department we should contact." . There is very limited support for non-UK based Agents.

    2. Why cant non-UK based Agents submit ESL and RCSL returns on behalf of the clients?
    We have been informed that non-UK Agents are not able to submit the ESL and RCSL returns + this service cannot be activated.

    3. The activation codes take forever to arrive. If the client is based outside of the UK, then it sometimes take more than 3 to 4 week. By this time, the activation code expires. We had a case where the client didnt receive the activation code until the last minute, however in the meantime, our team had alrady requested for the activation code to be reissued. Thus the activation code previously requested became invalid. Took almost 2 months just to enroll them for online filing. The Irish ROS system is way better than HMRC.

  3. Comment by McMonigle posted on

    As an ex HMRC employee circa 1970 to 1984 I remember that the training was 1st class. Sadly I now find when speaking to HMRC staff their knowledge is very limited, I assume training has been cut back to save money. However it is frustrating to ring HMRC with a query & they don't know what you are talking about. I would suggest that training be improved which would help agents & give HMRC staff more confidence.

    • Replies to McMonigle>

      Comment by ruthbulteel posted on

      We recognise how important it is to have enough technical staff to meet current and future needs. Because of this, HMRC invests heavily in a range of training programmes. Our Tax Professional Development Programme has attracted 400 graduate level recruits since September 2012 – and over 1,000 staff are currently on learning programmes, supporting their move into Enforcement and Compliance roles.

      Once trained, it is mandatory for all HMRC Tax Professionals to take a minimum of five days Core Professional Development every year, to ensure they keep up to date with changes in legislation and case law.

  4. Comment by Alison Hull posted on

    We are agents for over 1000 employers, but only for their PAYE schemes. There are many other payroll bureaux in the same boat. Will we be consulted? Payroll bureaux are a very different type of agent service, and are currently suffering from the worst problems with HMRC, following the introduction of RTI. Can you ensure that you include this key group in your consultation process?

    • Replies to Alison Hull>

      Comment by ruthbulteel posted on

      We discussed including payroll bureaux in our latest research into the tax agent population at length, within HMRC and with the research company.

      As the primary purpose of the research is to give us an accurate picture of the agent population’s appetite and capacity for doing more business with HMRC digitally, there were compelling business and policy reasons for excluding payroll bureaux this time.

      We do recognise the important role played by payroll bureaux (particularly within the Real Time Information arena) and this has been reflected in other research HMRC has carried out recently.

  5. Comment by Nunn posted on

    Agree completely with all of this, especially the business of speaking to a call centre and then having to wait two working days for a technician to call back! I feel sorry for the HMRC staff who sometimes have to put up with these frustrations. Also have experienced the problem with activation codes and Non Resident clients - I have tried using this many times and not a single one of the codes reached my clients within the 30 days. And they were all only in European countries! I now resort to paper 64-8's, which I feel obliged to send "Signed For" so I can prove they have been received, as that has been an issue in the past too.

  6. Comment by Jennifer Adams posted on

    Best place to find out exactly what is happening on the ground re HMRC Digital Services is to log on to There you can read the frustrations of accountants and payroll depts under the Any Answers Section - not least the (usually) 1/2 hour wait when you try to speak to someone on the communal (ie non agent dedicated) PAYE helpline. Unfortunately phoning is the only way to get some things done (e.g get a payroll to be registered as annual status).
    When you do eventually get though (note the word when!) sometimes the technician doesnt know what you are taking about e.g not understanding the mechanics of paying directors via a directors loan account.

    On accountingweb they are keeping an eye on the strategy including writing follow up articles published by members of the profession who have attended the various HMRC strategy meetings that have been put on recently. One even written by yours truly!
    The site is free but you have to log in.

    Also there are always the Working Together groups - see ATT and CIOT websites for example for comments following meetings.

    What is working v well is the Agent Account Manager initiative.

    I echo Paddy's comments.