Making Tax Digital

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Setting up an Agent Services Account

All agents will need to set up an Agent Services Account (ASA). It is through the ASA that agents will access the new HMRC online services being developed as part of the MTD programme.

From April 2019, the ASA will be the portal through which agents will file VAT returns for those businesses which are required to keep digital records under MTD for VAT. At that point, the existing VAT portal will only be available to businesses which are outside the scope of MTD for VAT.

A new front door

The ultimate goal is for the ASA to be the single front door through which agents can access HMRC’s online services for their clients – quite a change from the existing system where an agent may have a number of separate Government Gateway accounts. However, with a single account for each agent, it will be much easier for HMRC to get a full picture of an agent’s client relationships.

It’s worth noting that creating an ASA will not disturb an agent’s existing online services accounts, and you will be able to continue to use them until all services are migrated to the ASA. Currently the timescale for the full transition to the ASA has not been announced.

Setting up the ASA

Care needs to be taken when setting up the ASA for the agency and, for larger firms, it should be set up centrally. It may be that your firm has already set up their account in order to access the Trust Registration Service.

Whoever sets up the account will need access to an existing set of Government Gateway credentials for any online service including self-assessment, VAT or corporation tax, as well as the agent’s own tax reference. For sole practitioners this will be your own personal UTR; for a partnership, you’ll need the partnership’s UTR; and for an incorporated business, the company’s corporation tax reference.

Managing access to your firm’s ASA

One of the challenges firms may have with the new ASA is how to manage staff access. The ASA was designed on the basis that agents would access the ASA through their own software, which would hold their login details and any additional security elements required for two-stage verification. Once logged on, the software would exchange client data with HMRC via one or more Application Programme Interfaces (APIs), while also managing what client data each staff member could access.

However, as the ASA has developed, it has become necessary for agents to log into the account directly to carry out transactional services. Such transactions include registering a trust on the Trust Registration Service or completing certain iForms. This means that the agency needs to consider carefully how they want to give their staff access to their ASA.

The simplest option is to share the username and password with those staff who need access. But the simplest option is also the least secure – the virtual equivalent of leaving the front door on the latch. Agents, and HMRC, will want to take the security of ASAs more seriously.

The recommended option involves setting up delegate access using the ‘manage users’ function, which allows the creation of an individual username and password for each member of staff who needs to access the ASA. This way, the agent will know which of their staff has entered the system, and, by allocating them access to certain clients, they can manage which staff can complete transactions for which clients.

This process, however, is not currently without its flaws. At the moment, a staff member logging on with their own credentials will only be able to see those transactions which they have initiated. This may cause problems if a transaction started by one member of staff needs to be reviewed or completed by another. The process of allocating clients to individual members of staff is also difficult and time consuming. The good news is, thanks to early feedback, HMRC is aware of these limitations and is working with agents to make improvements.

Next steps

Even though the system isn’t 100% finished yet, it’s absolutely worth taking the time to log in and have a good look around at what’s there to familiarise yourself with it. If your firm hasn’t yet collected the virtual keys to its new ASA, now is the time to nudge someone responsible in your firm to do so. More details on the ASA, including on the set up process, can be found in HMRC’s Agent Update Issue 66.

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