As someone that runs their own small business, blogs and works as a freelance journalist, I’ve had to learn how to deal with my own accounts. While I was lucky enough to undertake a basic accounting course for free online and understand the basic principles of accounting for business, the area that I struggled with most, like many other people in the same position as me, was dealing with HMRC.
The deadlines were laid out, I knew when I had to submit my tax return by. I had created a self-assessment portal. I knew that there was a helpline available should I need it, and yet I still didn’t feel confident when it comes to submitting my tax return. I felt terrified that I would make a mistake and get in trouble for it. After all, there are so many horror stories floating about, like the one where a first-time business owner made one little mistake on their HMRC submission and ended up in court because of it.
I’ve now submitted three years worth of tax returns and slowly but surely I am becoming far more confident. I better understand what’s what, and I’m not so terrified when submitted my tax return. (Thank god!) However, just because I feel more confident now, at one point I didn’t, and unfortunately, this is a common trend.
For a lot of small business owners, bloggers, and freelancers, the relationship held with HMRC is a strained one. There isn’t enough support and help available, or at least, that’s what I think. So bearing that in mind, the question is: what could HMRC do to offer more transparency to people who are self-employed?
Offer online training courses
I really think that online training courses would be a huge hit with many self-employed people. I mean, when I first had to submit my tax return I felt totally confused and seriously terrified in case I got something wrong. But if there had been an online training course that HMRC offered all about self-assessments and submitting your tax return, I would have 100% undertaken it. Whether it was free or came at a small cost, I would have made it a priority to undertake it.
Provide appropriate literature
When I registered as self-employed, I expected to receive a leaflet in the post telling me about the process of submitting my first self-assessment, complete with a range of useful tips and advice, but to my total astonishment, I didn’t. I had to ring HMRC, wait on hold for what seemed like hours and then explain to an advisor that I was confused an in need of some assistance. I felt silly having to call up, as if I shouldn’t need to. However, if I’d been given an instruction leaflet for filling my first self-assessment, I probably wouldn’t have needed to call HMRC in the first place. You know how when you are referred by the doctor for a test or treatment at the hospital, they send you a little leaflet about what will happen and how you should prepare for your appointment? Well, this is exactly what HMRC should do.
Be willing to review first-time tax submissions
I personally would have loved to have had an HMRC tutor, who would help me through my tax return and offer support and advice. Perhaps even reviewing my first tax submission before I submitted it. Imagine how much less stressful that would make the process.
Although I am now far more confident when it comes to submitting my tax return, I honestly think that if HMRC had been more transparent and provided more support, my first couple of tax return submissions would have been far less stressful. I believe that taking this kind of proactive approach to self-assessments for newly self-employed people could be highly beneficial.