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Q&A: How HMRC is developing digital services

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What is HMRC proposing on digital and agent online self-serve?
Our aim is to enable businesses, agents and individuals to do all of their tax transactions online, either through one of our digital accounts or by using a third-party software product of their choice. We have huge digital ambitions, and we’re already starting to implement them. The personal tax account is now available to a small number of users who are trying it. The business tax account has more than three million users; and agent online self-serve (AOSS) is now in a test phase with around 800 different agents able to use it. We have a group of agents who have volunteered to be testers and we’re always open to others volunteering. Agents just need to complete a short questionnaire (via
At the moment, AOSS allows agents to view their clients’ PAYE liability and payments. We’ll soon be extending this to cover three other taxes, starting with self-assessment, then corporation tax and VAT. We’re also working on making it easier and faster for agents to tell us when they take on a new client and amend their agent authorisation. On 1 September, we launched our third-party software and application programming interface (API) strategy, which talks about the way we’re going to open up much more functionality to third-party software developers.
What are the implications for the tax adviser?
We want to make things more straightforward for them. We either want it to be easier for the tax adviser to do more with the software that they’re using from third parties, because we will allow them to have more functionality through APIs being available; or the business tax account will make it easier for them to see the affairs of each business or individual they are supporting. 
Presumably smaller agents are first in line. What are HMRC’s plans for in-house and larger firms? 
We’re doing everything for all sectors. The smaller agents would more typically use the tax account that we provide online. But, in parallel, we are trying to open up our API strategy so that third-party software can do more things. It will mean a bigger range of better tax software products for businesses and agents. The larger firms tend to use the third-party software, rather than use our tax accounts. 
Things are already happening. As I said earlier, three million organisations are using the business tax account and we’re well on the way to extending this to all businesses. AOSS is in a test phase with a number of agents. New functionality is being launched across all our services on a monthly basis – there is no plan to develop this and then suddenly stop. We’ll keep adding regular updates through the account or new APIs, so that third-party software companies can start to deliver a bigger range of better software products for businesses and agents.
When can businesses expect to be able to do more in the business tax account?
Well, we’re talking months rather than years. With the business tax account, our aim is that businesses can deal with all of their tax affairs in one place. We’ll be adding access to VAT, ePAYE services and corporation tax, payrolling benefits in kind service and the annual tax on enveloped dwellings service (ATED). There will also be a company accounts and tax online (COTA) beta.
Businesses will also receive more alerts, so they know what they need to do when. They’ll be able to interact with us more easily from the business tax account, so you’ll see us introduce things like online chat and secure messaging –the types of things that stop people having to write letters or even pick up the phone. All this will make it easier for them to talk to us, with a faster answer and a much better view of all the correspondence that’s been sent.
At the same time, we’re listening hard to customer feedback to constantly improve the service. At the moment, customer satisfaction levels for the business tax account are over 75%.
What other developments should businesses and agents look out for?
With our API strategy, I’m hoping they can look out for some really innovative things from their third-party software providers to make it easier for them to integrate tax as part of their day to day work. They’ll see more of our information moved across to, where more help and support is available, including our new webchat service. 
We went live with webchat in April for customers seeking help with online services and so far we’ve successfully handled more than 95,000 chats. Then in August, we went live with a ‘virtual assistant’ able to deal with some straightforward enquiries without human intervention. We’re currently refining the virtual assistant’s knowledge and capability by capturing the natural language used by customers. 
Webinars are another area in which we’re continuing to innovate. Last year, more than 47,000 businesses and agents attended webinars and in January we launched an online ‘drop in’ chat service for the SA filing peak which was used by more than 7,000 customers. 
HMRC’s third-party tax software and API strategy is published on (and is also available via