HM Revenue and Customs has announced that it will delay issuing fines to taxpayers who were late in submitting their self-assessment returns this year in order to ensure that staff in the department are free to deal with an expected increase in calls due to Brexit.
In an update published last week, HMRC highlighted that it usually issues £100 penalty charges this month if people failed to file their self-assessment online returns for the year by the 31 January deadline.
However, the tax agency said that “as part of EU Exit contingency planning, we have decided to make a change to the timings for sending notification of self assessment penalties”.
Issuing the fines “creates considerable demand into our call centres and back offices, as customers contact us to consider their options”, according to the statement, so this will be delayed to free staff to deal with Brexit queries.
HMRC said it expected to see an increase in the number of calls to its centres in the run-up to 29 March, the date that the UK is currently expected to leave the bloc. This could be with an agreement if prime minister Theresa May’s withdrawal deal is backed by MPs, or without one if it fails to secure the backing of MPs and Article 50 is not withdrawn or extended.
“We intend to delay the issue of these notices to ensure we can provide the best service to our customers,” HMRC said. “This will release those staff for EU Exit related work.
“Individuals who filed late will still be charged the penalty; but the notice will be delivered later than normal. We will issue daily penalties to individuals who have still not filed three months after the deadline, in appropriate cases, at the normal time. The latest date that the notices will go out is the end of April, but they will go out sooner if the withdrawal agreement is agreed.”
This is the latest indication of Brexit planning from HMRC. Last week, it announced it would not implement new import declarations for goods arriving in the UK from the European Union for six months if the UK leaves the bloc next month without an exit deal, while it has already said it would allow goods to be brought into the UK before the goods have been declared for customs purposes for “a temporary period” under a no-deal exit.
Whitehall perm secs have also revealed some details of their staffing plans for a no-deal exit from the European Union – and their “buddy” arrangements with other ministries.
Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs permanent secretary Clare Moriarty and Department for Transport perm sec Bernadette Kelly told members of the Public Accounts Committee this month that their departments had been matched with a buddy to streamline the sharing of staff. Plans have also seen the creation of a government "clearing hub" for secondments across Whitehall.