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Update - trial closure of Income Tax Office telephone system and public counter

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Wednesday 19 December 2012

The trial closure of the Income Tax Office telephone system on Thursdays, and closure of the public counter on Thursday afternoons, ended on 29 November.

This trial has enabled assessing staff to concentrate on examining returns and issuing assessments on Thursdays in order to bring the backlog of tax returns to a more manageable level. It should be noted that it is normal, in fact inevitable, for the Income Tax Office to be in arrears in its processing of tax returns, given that the majority are returned within the first quarter of the year. For example, in 2012, over 56% of returns had been submitted by the end of March and over 71% by the end of May.

At the start of the trial period there were 10,779 returns for the employed population of Guernsey and Alderney that had been received but not assessed; this has now reduced to 7,226. Therefore, as at 30 November 2012, over 80% of the employed population's returns submitted (29,180) have been assessed, compared to 63% at the start of the trial period. This is comparable to the prior year when 82% of returns (27,993) submitted had been assessed by the same date.

The Income Tax Office has received over 11,500 returns filed online (e-forms) this year, of which approximately 30% have been automatically assessed, i.e. the income tax assessment was issued without any human intervention, within the stated target of ten working days of receipt of the return. This compares with just 3,742 e-forms received during the whole of 2011 - a significant increase.

Any e-forms that were not eligible for automatic assessing will have been passed to an officer in the Income Tax Office to review, as a priority matter, with the aim that those who file online will receive their assessment earlier than if they had filed a paper return. The reasons why those e-forms could not be automatically assessed will also be reviewed with the aim of enhancing the system, if possible, to enable more returns to be automatically assessed in future.

Rob Gray, Director of Income Tax, said:

"Unfortunately the backlog of work from last year, combined with resourcing difficulties following resignations and other staff movements, has had a knock-on effect this year. Whilst I regret any inconvenience caused by the closure of the telephone system on Thursdays, and the public counter on Thursday afternoons, the trial has had a very positive impact on the backlog of returns waiting to be assessed, with over 3,200 assessments issued (approximately 250 each Thursday) during the trial period that the office was closed to telephone calls."

The Income Tax Office will shortly be issuing reminder letters to any taxpayers with calendar year 2011 returns still outstanding. Any returns still outstanding 30 days after the issue of the reminder letter will be subject to an automatic penalty, initially amounting to £100, followed by continuing daily penalties of £10.

Mr Gray said: "It is estimated that there are still over 8,000 returns still outstanding for the calendar year 2011. If these returns are submitted over the next few weeks, the Tax Officers will have a further 15,000 returns to process, even before the cycle of returns submitted for calendar year 2012 commences. In order to continue the benefit to both the public and the States of the recent reductions in backlogs, and to limit as far as possible a reoccurrence of substantial arrears of returns waiting to be examined during 2013, the Treasury and Resources Board has sanctioned a further closure of the telephone system on Thursdays for the first quarter of 2013. Our public counter area will also be closed from 2pm each Thursday, but will be open prior to that, as normal, to deal with payments, issue of coding notices, etc. I regret any ongoing inconvenience to the public arising from this, but I hope that the benefits of having their tax affairs dealt with earlier than would otherwise be the case will outweigh those inconveniences in the long term. In addition, I would urge everyone who has the facility to file online, and who has not yet done so, to visit www.gov.gg and follow the link "Save Time Do It Online" to find out how straightforward it is."

Taxpayers are reminded that they must ensure they take care to include details of all their income, from every source whatsoever, in their income tax returns. A significant number of returns have been submitted to the Income Tax Office which have been considered incorrect because, for example, the taxpayer has not included details of all their earnings from each of their employers. In addition, many taxpayers continue to claim for a life assurance allowance in the Personal Pensions section of the return, despite this allowance not being available since the Year of Charge 2010.

Mr Gray said, "Errors in returns take additional time to deal with and correct, so, in order to prevent unnecessary delays, it would help if all taxpayers could ensure that their return is complete and correct prior to submission. Apart from these oversights and minor errors, it is clear that some taxpayers choose to continue to deliberately fail to declare all of their income. Those persons should understand that a serious view will be taken if a return is found to be materially incorrect or incomplete and severe penalties may be imposed in respect of the negligent or fraudulent delivery of an incorrect return. Furthermore, any person deliberately evading tax is potentially liable to be prosecuted through the courts."

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