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HMRC pleased with RTI launch despite teething problems

April 11, 2013

HMRC have expressed satisfaction with their launch of RTI and confirmed they have received 70,000 employer returns in RTI’s first 3 days. The launch of RTI went ahead as planned on the 6 April despite system outages, industrial action and widely reported procedural and technical issues with the new systems.

Ruth Owen, HMRC’s Director General of Personal Tax, said that RTI was “the biggest change to PAYE in 70 years” and that it was “great news that so many employers have started to report PAYE in real time.”

70,000 returns represents some 5% of the approximately 1.4 million employers in the UK operating PAYE schemes who will be expected to start reporting Real Time Information in the coming month.  Ms Owen acknowledged that there was still some way to go, saying that “we know it will take some time before every employer in the country is using RTI.”

She sought to reassure those who have yet to start reporting RTI, adding: “We appreciate that some employers might be daunted by the change – but they don’t need to be. HMRC is on hand to offer help and support and we are taking a pragmatic approach – which includes no in-year late filing penalties for the first year.”

Despite HMRC’s assurances of help, many employers found themselves without support in the initial phase of the launch as the HMRC helplines were overwhelmed by the volume of calls.  This problem eased later in the week as some of the initial technical and procedural issues making RTI submissions via the Gateway were resolved, but there were widespread reports of employers and their agents experiencing difficulties trying to make their first submissions.

Some users reported that they were still receiving “server busy” messages when they began to attempt to file their submissions on Saturday 6 April, when the planned maintenance of the Government Gateway was supposed to have been completed. HMRC acknowledged its helplines were extremely busy and some users reported that the only advice they received was to try again later in the week. 

Baker Tilly, a national firm of accountants, were reported by the Daily Telegraph, as saying  there were a number of problems for small businesses trying to run 2013-14 year payroll and being prevented from doing so until they had finished reporting for 2012-13 and yet being unable to submit end-of-year reports for 2012-13. Baker Tilly described RTI as meaning ‘Ready to implode’.

There also seemed to be a lack of consensus from HMRC helpline staff, with users who called back multiple times receiving different answers to the same query.  This follows consistent concerns expressed by the accountancy profession, mostly accepted by HMRC, that HMRC’s internal systems for dealing with customer service issues require improvement. 

Several technical issues with the Government Gateway and HMRC’s Basic Tools arose, including users being told that they had “not been invited to make this kind of submission” when they attempted to file, timeouts occurring on their submissions and access code errors appearing when users’ credentials were entered.  Online advice directed users to already overstretched helplines which resulted in considerable delays for many of those attempting to file their submissions. 

Payroll software provider helplines including those of Sage, IRIS and Moneysoft were also inundated with calls and struggled to cope with enquiries from frustrated users.

Sage’s Jon Cowan responded to the complaints in a statement posted to Accounting WEB: 

“We have known that the introduction of RTI was going to be a challenge for customers for some while now and we’ve worked really hard to get people thinking about the impact this might have on their business, through either the pilot programme we ran or by making sure they have as much information [and] guidance as possible.”

He also said: “We were open last weekend when the RTI came into force and we’re open 8-8 to try to help businesses throughout the day.  Following customer feedback we’re also adding extra online Q&As, webinars and FAQs”.

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