PAYE settlement agreements

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:15 am ar 17 Hydref 2017.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

Clause 6 makes changes to simplify the PAYE settlement agreements process, by allowing employers to propose PAYE settlement agreements without the need to agree that with an officer of Revenue and Customs beforehand. PAYE settlement agreements, or PSAs, were introduced in the 1990s as an administrative easement for employers and HMRC. They allow employers to settle, in a single payment, the income tax liability on behalf of their employees for certain benefits-in-kind and expenses.

In their 2014 review of employee benefits and expenses, the Office of Tax Simplification highlighted a number of issues with the PSA process. In response, the Government launched a consultation in the summer of 2016 on proposals to simplify the process for arranging, and clarifying the use of, PAYE settlement agreements. In line with the Office of Tax Simplification’s recommendations, the changes being made by clause 6 will simplify the PSA process. Employers will no longer be required to submit a request in advance of their year-end reporting obligations. Instead, they will be able to submit their PSA request at the year end and make ad hoc requests throughout the year. It also removes the need for PAYE settlement agreements to be agreed with an officer of HMRC. In addition, HMRC will develop a digital tool to replace the submission of paper returns. HMRC’s guidance will be strengthened and updated, in order to reduce errors and provide certainty for employers.

The Government are committed to reducing the administrative burden for employers. In line with recommendations made by the OTS, clause 6 will help to simplify the PSA process and provide certainty and stability for employers. I therefore move that this clause stands part of the Bill.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Although the Opposition have not tabled an amendment on this clause, Members will be aware that we have wider concerns about the overall intention of the measure and, for example, its relationship to the Government’s wider digital tax strategy. We have been clear that, although we support the gradual digitisation of taxation and the capacity it has to remove the administrative burden from HMRC, the self-employed, small and medium-sized businesses and larger companies that have to submit tax returns, we are concerned about the Government’s rush to introduce this timetable, which in our view is ill thought-out—as we have said many times.

In principle, we agree with the aims of the measure, which appears to allow employers the ability to settle income tax liabilities for certain benefits and expenses in a more efficient and timely manner. I do not think any of us would want to argue with that. However, we are concerned about the removal, without assurances, of the agreement of the officers of HMRC in this process. I am sure that that is mere coincidence, given that the measure is being introduced at a time when the Government have reduced HMRC staffing levels by 17% since 2010. I would like to take it on good faith from the Minister that the removal of the need for agreement with an officer of HMRC has little to do with the falling numbers of staff.

The clause explicitly states that this measure aligns with the principles of HMRC’s wider digital transformation strategy and therefore it seems impossible to discuss the clause without also referring to clauses 60 to 62, which introduce the digital reporting of VAT and income tax. Given that link, I would like to take the opportunity to ask the Minister about the overall digital transformation strategy at HMRC.

First, how far along is HMRC with this new digital solution that the Government plan to develop? How many pilots have been run of the new software needed at HMRC? How many of those pilots were successful? What is the cost to HMRC of the new software? What is the cost to an employer of using that software? How will HMRC be able to intervene manually to mitigate compliance risk?

The Government have made much of the huge administrative burden that employers face, and of how this measure, along with others, will ensure that employers can submit their PAYE settlement agreement requests at the end of the year and make ad hoc requests during the year, but that is surely completely inconsistent with the Government’s plans to mandate quarterly digital reporting for income tax and VAT. It will remove some administrative burdens for employers with regard to income tax on the one hand, but add further burdens on the other. I would be grateful if the Minister helped us out with that.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

As we have set out, clause 6 makes changes to simplify the PSA process. I am grateful that the hon. Member for Bootle appears to welcome those changes. The Government believe that it is extremely important to lower the burdens on our businesses, which create the wealth and pay the taxes that pay for the public services that, as a civilised society, we all want.

The hon. Gentleman raised making tax digital and the digital changes to the way that tax will be reported. He will know that I laid a written ministerial statement a little while ago that set out a changed timescale for the roll-out of that element. Consequently, no businesses will be involved in making tax digital until 2019 at the earliest, and even then only those at or above the VAT threshold will be involved, and only in respect of VAT reporting. No further roll-out will occur in any other areas until 2020 at the earliest. The Government are in listening mode, and we have listened extremely carefully and reacted extremely positively to feedback from businesses.

The hon. Gentleman raised several pertinent and legitimate questions about the piloting of the making tax digital process. They were very specific, and I do not think for a moment that he expects me to have all the answers in my head, talented though I am.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

And modest—quite. I will ensure that we write to the hon. Member for Bootle to answer the specific questions that he asked in that context.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I take the Minister’s assurances. I am sure that he has all the answers in his head, but he does not want to share them at this point. I will be able to read the letter that he sends over a nice cup of tea.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7