CIOT: Tax campaigners criticise withdrawal of paper filing option for VAT returns

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) has criticised HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for making it compulsory to file VAT returns online without retaining the option of filing a paper return.

All VAT returns will have to be submitted online, and all payments made electronically, for periods starting on or after 1 April 2012. The only exception to this rule is those who cannot use computers for religious reasons.

LITRG’s Technical Director, Robin Williamson, explained:

“Encouraging businesses to move to digital channels where they are able to do so is sensible, and yields a number of benefits, for government and business alike. But the Government’s strategy of ‘Digital by Default’ should mean just that – that digital is the default option, not the only one.

“There are a range of people who, for genuine reasons, cannot file online. These reasons include not only religious belief, but also age, disabilities which inhibit use of computers, lack of decent access to the internet, inability to afford computer equipment, broadband connections and the like, inability to use IT, and concerns about privacy, particularly when using computers in public places.

“We are calling on HMRC to commit themselves to permanent retention of a range of options, including paper filing, on all business taxes for these limited groups of people.

“HMRC’s response to the Digital by Default consultation, published earlier this month, recognised the need to take an inclusive approach and not a mandatory, statutory one. Ministers have promised that the digitally excluded will not be left behind1. Yet HMRC are persisting with a policy of digital compulsion for VAT filing.

“HMRC have said they are prepared to consider allowing filing over the telephone in cases of genuine difficulty although this will not be available during evenings or weekends. They are also failing to publicise that this possibility exists. Given that HMRC have ruled out statutory exemptions, they must take care that such support as they are prepared to offer is fully effective in removing all barriers faced by people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in complying with their recast VAT obligations. Otherwise HMRC risk infringing equalities legislation and possibly wider principles of natural justice.”

Notes to editors
1. On 23 November 2010 the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, made a statement on ‘Digital by Default’, in which he said that:

“This does not mean we will abandon groups that are less likely to access the internet: we recognise that we cannot leave anyone behind. Every single Government service must be available to everyone – no matter if they are online or not.”

2. HMRC’s document, ‘Summary of Responses: VAT – consultation on the next steps for moving VAT online’ can be found at

3. LITRG responses to government consultations in this area are also available online:
HMRC consultation – Digital by default
VAT: consultation on the next steps for moving VAT online

4. The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) is an initiative of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) to give a voice to the unrepresented. Since 1998 LITRG has been working to improve the policy and processes of the tax, tax credits and associated welfare systems for the benefit of those on low incomes.

5. The CIOT is a charity and the leading professional body in the United Kingdom concerned solely with taxation. The CIOT’s primary purpose is to promote education and study of the administration and practice of taxation. One of the key aims is to achieve a better, more efficient, tax system for all affected by it – taxpayers, advisers and the authorities. The CIOT’s 15,800 members have the practising title of ‘Chartered Tax Adviser’ and the designatory letters ‘CTA’.

George Crozier
External Relations Manager

D: +44 (0)20 7340 0569
M: +44 (0)7740 477374
The Chartered Institute of Taxation
Registered charity number 1037771

The Association of Taxation Technicians
Registered charity number 803480
Registered company number 2418331
VAT Registration Number 497 5390 90

Low Incomes Tax Reform Group – an initiative of the Chartered Institute of Taxation

1st Floor, Artillery House, 11-19 Artillery Row, London SW1P 1RT