Today, my co-founder and I decided we would register our high technology UK-based start-up for VAT. We are already enrolled on the HMRC’s digital service called Government Gateway, so it ought to be a 5 minute job to set the wheels in motion for VAT registration. Not only that, we’ve done this before for other businesses, so we already have some experience of the process.
Anyone who has wrestled with the Government Gateway service either for personal or business use will know that it is woefully inadequate and generally unfit for purpose. But we logged on in the hope that today would be different…
On entering the Government Gateway, our company page displays:
The service shows that we are already registered for Corporation Tax and we can see a long alphabetical list of other delightful services on which we could enrol. Heading down to V for VAT we find a list of potential links:
But none of the options are simply “VAT registration”, and indeed “Submit VAT Returns” slightly higher on the list isn’t quite right either. Looking back through the entire list, a contender is back near the top: “Change VAT registration details”. On the face of it, this again is not worded quite right for what we’re looking for, but we click through out of desperation:
It turns out that this is in fact very promising, as this page clearly states “For businesses to apply for VAT registration”. Bingo, we clicked continue…
And our optimism fades once more. The first box of the form requires a VAT number, essentially the one thing we are trying to apply for. Leaving the box blank is not an option. This is presumably a service on which to enrol to change existing VAT details, not to register in the first place. We’ll have to head off and do some more research and come back to the task of registering for VAT later.
In the meantime, perhaps we can register for the pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) employer payroll service instead, as we are keen to employ our first member of staff and pay ourselves as directors going forward. We head back to the list of services on which to enrol and find the closest link for our needs. This one is titled “PAYE for Employers”, which sounds spot-on for our requirements.
And the next page confirms that our expectations are likely to be met:
Yes, we want to be able submit PAYE forms, and presumably this includes the realtime reporting (RTI) requirements that we will also need to comply with. We head on…
And once again we are stuck. The form asks for the Employer Reference and Accounts Office Reference, the two bits of information you get when you enrol on the service. This is obviously not the place to enrol on the PAYE service for employers.
At this point the air is blue with vented frustration. Why is it so hard?
Googling shows that there are other forms on the web reachable via the Gov.uk and HMRC websites, somehow disconnected from the Government Gateway. To register for VAT we need to navigate through a series of links here, and to register for PAYE, we find the necessary starting point here.
What then is the point of the Government Gateway enrolment service if it can not adequately serve up the forms for basic company tasks like VAT registration and PAYE Employer registration? I don’t have the answer, but I do have a suggestion: how about adding links to these pages mentioned above in the list given in the Government Gateway?
The UK’s productivity is low and I suspect some of this is down to busy entrepreneurs wasting valuable time navigating through the HMRC’s poorly presented and confusing forms. This situation is simple to change and would help the UK’s small and medium size businesses so much. Please for the love of God can those responsible get this fixed?
Adrian Burden is author of Start To Exit: How to maximize the value in your start-up.