Flying solo: Unlocking HMRC

In this post for her Flying Solo column, Sue Littleford highlights useful resources to help UK-based editors understand the country’s tax system.

This post is for people in the UK tax system, where Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (henceforth HMRC) is the government department that deals with collecting taxes and National Insurance. Self-employed editors must evaluate their own tax and National Insurance liabilities (‘self-assessment’) and will find plenty of help and resources on the HMRC website. This article looks at how to access the most relevant information.

Sorry, everyone else, but do explore your own tax authorities’ websites – you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

When you fill out your tax return, you’ll find context-sensitive help all over the form but, usually, the help means even less than you’d already intuited, if you’re anything at all like me. Please don’t be put off and think you can’t possibly deal with your tax return yourself. With all due respect to accountants, who are invaluable if your tax affairs are complicated, we have a self-assessment system that’s (meant to be) designed so that taxpayers can file their tax returns all by themselves.

And so HMRC, despite the terminology you see on the tax return, does a great deal to help you understand what you need to do, what you can and can’t do, when you need to do it by and so on. And as we start the increasingly rapid slide into Making Tax Digital (MTD; live April 2023 for the self-employed with a turnover (takings) of £10,000 pa or more), it’s best to get familiar now with the sources of information, so you can also start readying yourself for the demands of MTD.

I’ll now go through some of the sources of explainer videos and webinars, and guidance notes.

Personal tax account

A good place to start your journey of understanding is with your personal tax account, or PTA. To access this you’ll need to log in to HMRC (via Government Gateway or GOV.UK Verify, or create an account).

Here, you’ll find collected together PAYE and self-assessment tax, National Insurance, pensions, benefits such as tax credits, child benefit and marriage allowance, and your annual tax summary. The information on self-assessment is presented in a slightly more usable way than through your self-assessment account which, when I looked at it when I did my own tax return a few weeks ago, was – and I stress this is my personal opinion – still atrocious.

If HMRC emails you and says there’s a message for you, you can pick it up in the messages tab of your PTA.

Incidentally, these PTAs were introduced in April 2016 as long-lead preparation for MTD. No one can say we weren’t warned!

HMRC customer forum

HMRC has a customer forum or, rather, a list of forums where taxpayers can join the appropriate board to ask questions and read the advice already given or to give advice. Some answers will be given by other forum members, but HMRC Admin pops up from time to time, and will also post links to relevant new information on the main HMRC website.

Each top-level forum subdivides into topics, so it’s worth visiting and scrolling through just to see whether the coverage coincides with what you want to ask about.

HMRC help sheets

There is a whole slew of help sheets for self-assessment for the self-employed, and for all other categories of taxable situations.

HMRC webinars and other help

HMRC runs webinars throughout the year on a variety of topics, usually of an hour or less, and at different times of day to help people to attend. If you can’t attend a live delivery, then recordings are available.

If you’re new to self-assessment and filling out a tax return, start with the introductory webinar and the one on record-keeping, and with the guidance. If you’ve not completed your tax return for 2020/21 yet, then keep on scrolling down the same page for explainer videos on how to do it, and how to pay your tax and National Insurance. You’ll also find videos on allowable business expenses, the simplified expenses system and a host of other topics that may or may not apply to you. It’s a very long page, so do ensure you scroll right to the bottom to be sure of discovering all the help.

I strongly recommend you sign up for the email alerts. That will ensure you’re told about upcoming webinars, as you need to register to attend them, and things like due dates for your tax return and tax payments.

There are frequent live webinars on business expenses (ie which expenditure you can offset against your income to reduce your profits and thus reduce your income tax and National Insurance, and which you can’t). There are occasional webinars on MTD (and I expect they’ll get more frequent as we get closer to April 2023, to make sure people are making the necessary preparations). Live webinars come with downloadable documents with links to the help for that topic.

Although the recordings are great at demystifying the tax system, do attend the live webinars if you can, as via the chat function you can ask questions and get direct answers. They won’t deal with your individual tax record, but they’ll answer questions about the specifics of your situation and either answer directly or link to a place where you can read up on that topic. Some of the more common questions are answered by the presenters during the webinar, but all the time the backroom staff are busy typing away. And you can save the whole chat history, to see other people’s questions, and the answers they got, which can be great if there was something you meant to ask but didn’t. Maybe someone else asked it for you.

After attending a live webinar, you’re emailed a link to the replay and a list of links for the various help sheets.

YouTube channel

HMRC also runs a YouTube channel, with videos organised into playlists, such as self-assessment help and deadlines.

Making Tax Digital

MTD is already live for VAT (since April 2019), so much of the information available is around the VAT element. But there are listings there too for self-assessment folks, with videos and written guidance.

The HMRC business manual

You can also access the HMRC’s internal business manual on taxing income. This will tell you, in quite a formal way, everything you could possibly want to know, and you can’t get more from the horse’s mouth than this.


I’ve kept the resources here limited to self-assessment for the self-employed. For a much wider range of resources, browse ‘Money and Tax’, to find ‘Dealing with HMRC’, ‘Income Tax’, ‘National Insurance’, ‘Self-Assessment’, or ‘VAT’ among other topics, on GOV.UK.

One thing I’ve not been able to find, to my satisfaction, is a reasonable glossary of terms. The ones I’ve turned up are too narrow, too high-level, too old … If you know of one, please pop it in the comments! Thank you!

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

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Photo credits: padlock and keyboard by FLY:D 🔶Art Photographer; Pay Your Tax Now Here! by The New York Public Library, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

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