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Making Tax Digital is Unknown to 20% of Micro-Businesses

A new study by FreeAgent has shown that around 20% or one-fifth of micro businesses have no idea about the government’s Making Tax Digital scheme, despite the government publishing further information about the plan at the end of January.

Lack of information

According to the research, some 84% of respondents thought that the government had not provided enough information about either the digital tax plans or how this new legislation would affect business owners around the UK. But on the positive side, 41% said they were aware of the plans and that they felt positive about them. A further 27% thought that the legislation would make running a business easier than before.

Changing tax system

According to Ed Molyneux, CEO and co-founder of FreeAgent, the Making Tax Digital scheme will see one of the biggest changes to the UK’s tax system for generations. Businesses could also see the start of the changes as early as next year.

Yet despite positive responses from some micro-businesses, it is also clear that others have little idea about what the scheme involves. And even those who are aware of it don’t fully understand how it will affect their business. He went on to add that the Making Tax Digital scheme is a great way for businesses to gain clarity over their financial position as well as being better equipped to calculate and pay tax bills.

For the micro-businesses surveyed who did know about the scheme, there was generally a positive attitude to the changes with only a small number saying that they felt the changes would make things harder. But FreeAgent also urges the government to keep these businesses up to date with the changes and ensure they were fully aware when the changes are implemented.

The scheme

The scheme was announced in the March Budget in 2015 but the 2017 Budget saw the government give small businesses another year to institute the changes. It will involve keeping digital records and sending HMRC quarterly updates with every business having their own personalised digital tax account.

What does Making Tax Digital for Business really mean?

For SMEs, entrepreneurs and sole traders, there are a few major changes that they need to be aware of that will be introduced over the next few years. Here we take a look at the most relevant changes that are planned to happen:

The end of annual tax returns

The Making Tax Digital (MTD) programme is designed to make the reporting of your business’s financial data to HMRC more straightforward through eliminating the need for an annual tax return. Instead, you will be required to send your financial updates to HMRC digitally via your online tax account on a quarterly basis. Rather than being asked to complete a new tax return four times per year, you will only need to submit financial data online without the need for any complicated paper form filling.

MTD has already begun

The initial consultation period for Making Tax Digital has already ended and we can expect to see the new legislation being announced at some point this year. The new MTD requirements will be operated through your existing digital tax account that you will already have with HMRC.

The MTD pilot scheme has already started with volunteers who have signed up to test the system. We can expect changes and tweaks to the system as their feedback is received. Hopefully this will make the system as user-friendly as possible to take into account those with minimal computer skills.

From July to December 2017, the online digital tax accounts will be able to give taxpayers an overview of their standing and what tax they will be liable for.

In 2018 it is expected that all businesses, landlords and self-employed people that have a turnover above the current VAT registration threshold will be able to start updating HMRC for income tax and NI on a quarterly basis using simple accounting software.

If the roll out continues to be successful, it is then hoped that in 2019 all businesses with a turnover falling between the current minimum threshold and the VAT registration threshold will also start to update HMRC on a quarterly basis too. This will also be done through their accounting software and submitted online.

Possible Software Issues

While it will be necessary to keep HMRC updated with your business finances digitally, HMRC have so far been pretty vague about the details. They will expect you to use a form of accounting software to submit your figures and have said that using spreadsheets is fine as long as the spreadsheet package you use will be able to connect to your digital tax account. This may be possible through some sort of software, but looking ahead it may be easier to simply use a digital accounting software package to compile your figures rather than rely on spreadsheets alone.

Real-Time Tax Information

By going digital, HMRC say that your business tax position will be reported to you in ‘as close to real-time as possible’. This will help to avoid you having to wait until the end of the year before knowing exactly how much tax you have to pay. This can help you to budget and set aside money over the year to pay your tax liabilities without the worry of being landed with a huge tax bill at the end of the year.

At the moment, the threshold for meeting the MTD requirements currently stands at £10,000. However, for those who are exempt because their annual sales fall below this figure, there is an option for them to opt in if they so choose. There are other groups that will be exempt from MTD and these will include charities and those deemed to be ‘digitally excluded’ for whatever reason.