HMRC’s head of software development and collaboration, Lee Hawksworth, spoke at a Making Tax Digital (MTD) seminar in February 2017. The audience of accountants listened to his talk about the MTD programme from HMRC’s perspective and then asked questions.

During his talk, Hawksworth said that MTD aims to simplify the tax system and reduce errors in the self-assessment tax return. Claiming business expenses, for example, caused problems for many tax payers who sometimes misunderstood the nuances of tax policy. MTD will make it easier for taxpayers to get their tax right first time because software is being developed to remove any grey areas in interpretation. Before MTD, tax policy was set and the technology teams had to find ways of making it work online. With MTD, the IT team is working closely with the tax policy team to make it easier for a tax payer to decide how business expenses should be categorised.

HMRC will also be working with external software providers to develop products which include secure messaging services. This will enable questions and answers to be sent to and from HMRC rather than using email applications which are being phased out.

In April 2017 there will be a beta pilot of the MTD software concentrating on certain types of business and income. Depending on the pilot results, more features would be added to the software.

There were a number of questions from the audience, many of which raised doubts about HMRC’s ability to provide software which would work as intended. Hawksworth admitted that getting the software right would not be easy, but it would include a range of guidance such as prompts and pointers as well as webchat facilities and online videos on the site or accessed through the personal tax account. He added that the success, or not, of webchat would be shown by the ability of HMRC’s staff to have the appropriate knowledge to answer questions posed.