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Website review

19 April 10

The new tax year prompts a look at some websites covering the subject

by Iain Nisbet

They say that tax doesn’t have to be taxing, but I’ll confess it taxes my brain. I remember I just about got to grips with VAT and inheritance tax, but after that it’s all a bit of a blur… Maybe the internet can help?

HM Revenue & Customs

www.hmrc.gov.uk

What better place to start than with the mothership? The HMRC website is not only the obvious source, but for most people with an enquiry would also be the sole place you needed to look.

On first glance, the homepage appears a little crowded, but the navigation system is surprisingly effective, given the vast amounts of information the site contains. The site is divided into three main areas: one for individuals and employees; one for employers; and the third for businesses and corporations. Within each section you can then click on the type of tax you’re interested in paying and find all the guidance, FAQs, forms and other information you’ll ever need in relation to that particular tax. In addition, the site directs you to other related topics, provides online calculators and other tools, and allows you to do your returns and pay them money without leaving the comfort of your home.

There’s a special section for tax agents and advisers, though this is not as prominent as the other three sections and one senses a little tension as you enter the area. To be fair though, it does look like it would be very useful if that were your line of work.

Overall, the site is excellent. It’s not pretty, but then, it’s tax – you probably don’t care if it’s done in pastel shades or not.

HM Treasury

www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

This site, by contrast, is very pretty. However it is (at least on first inspection) lighter on the useful and relevant material side of things. The primary purpose seems to be communicating with the electorate in a non-demanding way (not that there’s anything wrong with that). However, the professional adviser may find the section on legislation and consultations, or even the economic data and tools, of interest – although it’s hard to see how.

Tax tribunals

www.tribunals.gov.uk/tax

The First-Tier Tribunal (Tax) and the Upper Tribunal (Tax and Chancery) (www.tribunals.gov.uk/financeandtax) have websites that are very similar to each other. That, however, can now be said of all UK tribunals of whatever stripe these days. It is a little bit tedious and hard to tell the difference between tribunal sites sometimes, but I suppose it underlines the point that they’re all part of one big Tribunal Service (which was presumably the intention).

Nothing very inspirational then, but useful information nonetheless, including decisions, forms & guidance; and rules & legislation.

Taxation Web

www.taxationweb.co.uk

This site describes itself as a free database of UK tax information for accountants and the general public. It seems to be updated on a very regular basis and provides the latest in taxation news, together with comment, analysis and topical articles. You can access the site updates on Facebook, Twitter and by rss feed, which is nice.

I liked the look of the Tax Tips Forum, which allows users to add questions or comments to the site on tax problems or tax matters in general. The various accountants, tax advisers and others are then invited to offer free help and advice on the open forum. If ever accountants and tax advisers had a reputation for being miserly, then here’s where we can dispel that myth. On current evidence, each such enquiry is promptly and (as far as I can tell) helpfully answered usually by more than one adviser.

TaxAid

www.taxaid.org.uk

TaxAid describes itself as a UK charity, but its website shows no signs of a legal system north of the border. Nevertheless, the charity aims to provide free tax advice to people who cannot afford to pay a professional adviser. And this website is one of the ways it does that.

The website does a very good job in setting out not only the basic tax information which can be found on so many other sites. It also has a particular focus on what happens when things go wrong, e.g. on tax debt and enforcement. There are many practical steps and ideas which are recommended for those facing tax debt, and examples on the site of those the charity has helped before. It looks like a very useful site for individuals, lay advisers and the lawyer who needs to know about tax only when it really hurts. I recommend a visit.

Robin Hood Tax

www.robinhoodtax.org.uk

More of a campaign site than a tax law one, but the Bill Nighy video alone is worth visiting for.