HMRC Digital Support for Agents
12 September 2014
The announcement says:
We will be working closely with agents’ representative bodies to explore what will work best and ensure that we design new digital services that meet agents’ needs and improve the quality and speed of our responses.
In line with the Government’s ‘Digital by Default’ agenda HMRC is looking at how it can provide greater choice and more flexible services to agents (and all customers) through increased use of digital channels.
We have recently re-organised our Business Customer and Strategy teams, bringing together the work previously done on agent engagement through Working Together and the Agent Account Manager (AAM) service and the work on SME education, into one team, Digital Support for Business and Agents.
The new team will build on successes in reaching and engaging SME’s through digital tools. We will work with agents and their professional bodies to develop new methods for supporting agents digitally whilst ensuring that the digital support we provide improves our engagement and meets agents’ needs.
Moving towards digital support and services means that we will inevitably take a step back from some of our face-to-face engagement. That does not mean we will withdraw from face-to-face entirely but we will explore the potential, in discussions with agents’ representatives, for engaging in a different way and taking a fresh approach to, for example, how we support meetings (including Working Together meetings) and meet requests for speakers.
We know that Working Together is about a lot more than just local meetings. It looks for ways to improve HMRC’s operations for the benefit of tax agents, their clients and HMRC. We will not lose sight of this valuable function, which enables agents and professional bodies to alert HMRC at an early stage to glitches in the tax system and make suggestions to improve services for its customers.
We'll be looking across the piece at how issues are reported to HMRC and how, in turn, updates on progress are reported back to agents, to see if we can identify more effective and quicker ways of managing issues through the use of digital tools.
We are very keen to hear agents’ views on how the right digital support for agents should be developed. We plan to use the next meeting of the Agents/HMRC Virtual Communications Group on 20th August to begin a conversation about this with the representative bodies and we will also be discussing our proposals with agents in local Working Together groups.
What will be different?
Nothing is going to change overnight but we do need to think, in line with our digital agenda, about providing support for agents in a different way.
We have already worked with agents to develop, for example, successful webinars (a new webinar on SA returns – expenses, risks and concerns is in production at the moment). We want to build on and enhance these services to improve the quality, speed and convenience of our engagement with agents.
Increased use of digital tools should also provide opportunities for reaching more agents with our key messages and enable us to provide more agents with the support they need.
Does this mean the end of Working Together?
No. We will take a collaborative approach to exploring how we might use digital tools to improve local Working Together arrangements.
We want to begin a conversation with agents at national and local level to, for example, pilot the use of closed LinkedIn groups, email and webinars. We would like to move the majority of our engagement to digital interactions but we want to discuss our proposals with agents before introducing any changes.
How is HMRC going to work with agents to develop these new digital tools?
During the coming days and weeks our Working Together team will be talking to local groups and representatives about taking this work forward and testing new digital approaches. We will also discuss our plans with representatives of the professional bodies, through the Joint Initiative Steering Group, the Virtual Communications Group and the Agent Strategy Group.
Why is HMRC doing this now?
We need to develop digital solutions that agents are comfortable using in advance of the introduction of more online services for agents (through Agent Online Self Serve). Digital solutions are likely to play a significant part in supporting agents during the rollout of AOSS and we want to ensure that agents have some experience of using digital assistance – and an opportunity to influence its development - well in advance of AOSS.
HMRC has some experience of providing good digital support to the introduction of new online services. For example, between February and April 2013 over 73,000 employers used HMRC’s digital support for help and advice about the introduction of Real Time Information (RTI).
Will agents still be able to raise an issue through Working Together?
For now agents should continue to raise any issues through the current routes – local Working Together or by using the Agent Account Manager (AAM) issues resolution service .
About 10,600 agents are registered for the AAM service and the team deals with over 3000 issues each year. We aim to expand this service so that more agents are able to benefit from it.
We will be reviewing our processes but we will ensure that agents still have a route into HMRC to get their issues resolved. We also think that we can use digital methods to provide quick, up-to-date progress reports on issues and quickly obtain agents’ feedback.
Will there be any face-to-face local Working Together meetings?
We will use our existing face-to-face arrangements and organisation to work with agents to develop new digital approaches for engagement. As we collaboratively design successful new ways of working we would like to introduce these across the UK. This approach does not mean that we will withdraw from face-to-face local meetings completely but our aim is to work with agents on the introduction of a good digital support service that will reduce the need for face-to-face engagement and save time (including agents' non chargeable time) for all of us. We also think that, through digital solutions, we'll be able to achieve our aim of exchanging information with and reaching a greater number of agents.
What about Working Together Co-Ordinators? What’s their role going forwards?
We plan to bring our Agent Account Manager and traditional Working Together Co-ordinator roles closer together - based in fewer locations but still providing coverage across the UK. This will mean that there may be some changes to the personnel involved in this work over the coming months. We will however work closely with agents, WT Co-ordinators and AAM’s to ensure a smooth handover where we introduce new contacts and new ways of working.
The Digital Agenda – Background
The Government’s Digital Strategy
More and more people are using the internet to bank, shop and pay their bills and would welcome opportunities to transact with government departments online or through other digital means at a time which suits them.
The ‘digital by default’ proposition for government services has its origins in the review published by Martha Lane Fox in November 2010. The review (which was endorsed by the Government’s response) recommended that public services should be delivered online or digitally and non digital solutions should only be introduced as an exception.
The review said that as well as providing better, more personalised services for citizens to use when they needed them the shift to digital channels had the potential to deliver significant cost savings.
HMRC’S Digital Strategy
To continue to provide the best possible tax service HMRC needs to embrace the digital by default agenda and redesign its old, manual processes to exploit the opportunities that technology now offers. A more flexible, transparent and modern service will enable customers to deal with all of their tax affairs in a single place.
HMRC published its Digital Strategy in December 2012. This set out our ambition to provide a transparent tax system enabled by customer-focused digital services which are so straightforward and convenient that everyone (and their agents) who can use them will choose to do so.
Spending Review 2013, which details the Government’s spending plans for 2015-16, allocated more than £200 million over the next three years to enable HMRC to achieve its ambition of becoming an increasingly digital business, offering a personalised and efficient online service.
It has also been decided that Agents and business will continue in the interim to use the Government Gateway credentials for accessing online services. IDA (Identity Assurance) will be used by Citizens first. This is good news as it at least provides the confirmation of a decision (rather than a ‘we are thinking about it’ message).
Members who currently only have FBI2 authorities to enable them to receive online information on behalf of a client will need to have 64-8 authorisations in place – the quick poll that we have been running during the summer shows that 69% currently have both but that leaves 31% with some work to do if they want to be accessing client information. It is the 64-8 that will give that permission and not the FBI2.