Monday, September 20, 2010

UK Proposes All Paychecks Go to the State First

Robin Knight
CNBC

The UK's tax collection agency is putting forth a proposal that all employers send employee paychecks to the government, after which the government would deduct what it deems as the appropriate tax and pay the employees by bank transfer. 

The proposal by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) stresses the need for employers to provide real-time information to the government so that it can monitor all payments and make a better assessment of whether the correct tax is being paid.

Currently employers withhold tax and pay the government, providing information at the end of the year, a system know as Pay as You Earn (PAYE). There is no option for those employees to refuse withholding and individually file a tax return at the end of the year

If the real-time information plan works, it further proposes that employers hand over employee salaries to the government first.


"The next step could be to use (real-time) information as the basis for centralizing the calculation and deduction of tax," HMRC said in a July discussion paper.

HMRC described the plan as "radical" as it would be a huge change from the current system that has been largely unchanged for 66 years. 

Even though the centralized deductions proposal would provide much-needed oversight, there are some major concerns, George Bull, head of Tax at Baker Tilly, told CNBC.com.

"If HMRC has direct access to employees' bank accounts and makes a mistake, people are going to feel very exposed and vulnerable," Bull said.

And the chance of widespread mistakes could be high, according to Bull. HMRC does not have a good track record of handling large computer systems and has suffered high-profile errors with data, he said.

The system would be massive in terms of data management, larger than a recent attempt to centralize the National Health Service's data, which was later scrapped, Bull said.

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