In the past few decades, HMRC has had a bit of an image overhaul.
What was once seen as a faceless and slightly threatening bureaucratic entity is now more modern and approachable. It streamlined its online self-assessment process, published comprehensive tax guidance, and regularly posts on a Twitter account filled with emojis and infographics.
In short, HMRC has put a lot of work into making its public image trustworthy and transparent, putting more emphasis on its efforts to “help the honest majority to get their tax right” – far from the old stereotype of the money-grabbing taxman.
Because getting information from HMRC officials now feels easier and less intimidating, a lot of people think of it as a business-friendly organisation, and a source of guidance when they’re confused about their tax position.
But in reality, HMRC is the same now as when its team were all on typewriters.
After all, its main purpose as a Government body is not to explain the complexities of the tax system to you, and it’s certainly not to show you how you can save money. Its purpose is to raise as much money through tax as possible.
As friendly as it might appear sometimes, HMRC isn’t your friend and it’s not there to help you.
So if you have any questions or concerns about your accounts over the self-assessment period – or at any other time of year – you’re better off speaking to an accountant instead.
Why should you ask an accountant for advice instead of HMRC?
You’ll have someone in your corner
To begin with, going into a conversation with HMRC alone isn’t always the most comfortable situation – especially if you’re confused about your accounts, or worried you’ve done something wrong.
I’m not saying they’ll take a completely draconian approach and slap you with a fine for asking a question. In fact, HMRC is usually keen to point out its lenient stance towards accidental errors, especially if you tell them about it quickly.
But in many cases, having a conversation with an accountant first means you can understand your situation, establish whether a mistake was made, and get your information together to present to HMRC. That’s a stronger and less nerve-wracking position to be in, and you won’t be doing it alone.
Find out about reliefs and allowances
Your accountant should always be on the lookout for ways to make your finances more tax-efficient.
Reliefs and allowances are put in place to reward behaviour that the Government wants to encourage, whether that’s investing in equipment for your business or saving into a pension, so it makes total sense to claim them where they’re available.
You’re not going to get any tips from HMRC if you’re missing the chance to claim an expense or use up an annual allowance, but talking to an accountant will highlight the opportunities you have.
Get deeper business insights
Another huge advantage of working with an accountant is the strategic guidance they can give you based on your accounts.
Ideally, they’ll get to know your business and give you tailored advice based on that knowledge – and that combination of data-driven insights and relationship-building is invaluable.
Speak to HMRC, and you might get a specific answer to your business, but more likely you’ll get a generic response or be directed to their online guides. Sure, you can learn the basics this way. But you won’t have anything near the personalised service you’ll get from a good accountant.
They’ll have time to speak to you
Finally, a practical point – if you’re looking for answers on your self-assessment tax return, HMRC isn’t the easiest to get hold of in December and January.
This is their busiest time of year, and even once you do get through to them, you’re probably not going to get an in-depth answer or have time to talk through your problem.
Us accountants are also busy right now, but if you’re filing your tax return with us, we’ll take the time to listen and make things as clear as possible. After all, our job is to make things easier for our clients.
This tax return season, don’t talk to HMRC if you’re confused about your accounts. Talk to an accounting professional who’s on your side.