HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has been slammed for its "spectacular lack of insight" in shutting down IT systems just weeks before the end of the financial year.
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In a note to businesses undergoing tax returns, HMRC advised that some services will be unavailable on Thursday 5 April 2012 until Tuesday 10 April. However, due to the complexities of the release some HMRC IT systems will be restored on Wednesday 11 April at their normal start times, it said.
“In the unlikely event of an overrun we have a process of ‘forward fixing’ so the affected system will remain unavailable until all components work correctly,” it added.
But accountancy software firm Sage is said to be advising clients not to submit anything until the week of 19 April to avoid potential trouble.
Phil Orford, chief executive at the Forum of Private Business, said it was the wrong time to schedule the work at short notice. “Many firms will find it hard to understand why HMRC has chosen to do a major upgrade to its IT systems at such an important time of the year in the tax calendar.
Orford added that if the shutdown led to problems for customers filing VAT returns, he hoped HMRC would be ready to deal quickly with those affected.
“We know from our members’ own experiences in the past, however, that once a fine has been issued because of HMRC mistakes, it can take months and months of wrangling to sort out and for firms to be reimbursed,” said Orford.
Rachel Andrews, owner of Andrews Computers, said: “I make my living teaching people how to do this and supporting them through the process, and my diary has been booked with client appointments since January.
"HMRC announced this just last week.
"Where is the commitment from them to give us timely warning and fair notice? This simply shows a spectacular lack of insight on their part.”
A spokeswoman from HMRC said the switch-off was due to a routine annual systems upgrade, which happens at the same time each year.