Agent Services Account
As HMRC rolls out new digital services to agents, including Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT and income tax services, access will be via a new agent services account (ASA).
What is an agent services account?
An agent services account is the new way for agents to access HMRC digital services. Initially it is being used for new HMRC digital agents services only; it is in use alongside the existing agent portal and doesn’t replace it. The current, familiar government gateway agent portal and agent credentials will continue to be used for existing HMRC online services for agents (income tax self assessment and VAT for clients not in MTD, and corporation tax) for some time yet.
A significant feature of the agent services account is that each firm can and will have one ASA only. The ASA is linked to the UTR of the firm (income tax self assessment UTR for sole practitioners, partnership UTR for partnerships and corporation tax UTR for those trading as limited companies).
Many firms have several different government gateway agent IDs for different offices, taxes etc. Once a firm has set up its agent services account it will need to link these government gateway agent IDs to the new ASA even though the government gateway agent IDs will continue to be used for existing services.
The linking process sets up a dynamic link between the existing government gateway agent IDs and the new agent services account. This allows agent-client relationships in the existing government gateway IDs to be recognised when accessing services through ASA (including access by MTD software). The linking process does not affect agent access to existing services using government gateway agent IDs and it does not enrol clients into any new services such as MTD.
What services are available through the agent services account?
The agent services account is still in development and is used principally for the following services:
- MTD for VAT including signing up clients to MTD for VAT and a new online process for authorising new VAT clients
- MTD for income tax
- The Trust Registration Service which is used to register trusts and estates
A detailed list of services available through the ASA is available on HMRC services for tax agents.
How does an agent set up an agent services account?
The link to set up an agent services account and the associated HMRC guidance is available on gov.uk: Get an HMRC agent services account. Once the ASA has been set up access if via Sign in to your agent services account.If an agent encounters a problem with setting up or using their ASA they should use the ‘Get help with this page’ link on the screen where the issue arises. This will generate a ticket for the relevant HMRC helpdesk which will respond to provide specific help with resolving the issue. If an agent prefers to phone HMRC the appropriate helpline is the Agent Dedicated Line 0300 200 3311 (ask to speak to the MTD team).
Hints and tips on agent services accounts
- A fundamental feature of the ASA is that each firm can and will have one account only. The account is linked to the UTR of the firm (income tax self assessment UTR for sole practitioners, partnership UTR for partnerships and corporation tax UTR for those trading as limited companies). Many firms have several different government gateway agent IDs for different offices or taxes etc. but can have only one ASA (unless the firm has a more complex structure involving more than one legal entity).
- Sole practitioners operating as self-employed sole traders have expressed concern about providing their personal income tax UTR and the associated postcode when setting up their ASA. It is a requirement to provide the UTR but it is possible to set a different correspondence address for the firm; this option is provided at a later stage during the set up process.
- Once a firm has set up its ASA it will need to link its existing government gateway agent IDs to the new ASA. This service to ‘link your current Self Assessment and VAT clients to this account’ is available from the ASA. The linking process sets up a dynamic link between the existing government gateway agent IDs and the new ASA. This allows agent-client relationships in the existing government gateway IDs to be recognised when accessing services through the ASA (including access by MTD software). The linking process does not affect agent access to existing services using government gateway agent IDs and it does not enrol clients into any new services such as MTD.
- Client lists are not displayed in the ASA. This is a deliberate design feature – if a client list were to be available in the ASA it would permit access to all client records by all of the firm’s staff. HMRC expects agents to manage their MTD client list and staff access though their MTD software and to manage their client lists for other services through the existing agent portal. ICAEW has raised the difficulties this will cause agents (particularly if an agent uses more than one software product) with HMRC.
- Existing government gateway agent IDs will continue to be used for existing agent portal services; access to these services is not affected by setting up the ASA or linking to it. It is, however, important to use the appropriate credentials for the service being accessed.
- The process of setting up an ASA involves setting up a new government gateway user ID. It is important to make a note of these details when they appear on the screen as they cannot easily be retrieved later. These details will be needed to access the ASA and services available through the ASA and to set up and authorise agent MTD software. Care needs to be taken not to confuse the new user ID with existing government gateway user IDs.
- A new Agent Reference Number is allocated during the process and this also needs to be carefully recorded.
- Agents should consider carefully the email address to use when setting up the new government gateway ID and ASA. It may be appropriate to use a centralised email address that has some permanence.
- A fairly common issue encountered by agents when setting up their ASA is a mismatch between the postcode and the UTR. Agents should check that the postcode they provide is the one associated with the firm’s own UTR on HMRC’s records. In some cases, addresses are incorrectly set up in HMRC’s systems (often many years ago). The address may appear correct when printed on HMRC correspondence but if the postcode is not in the correct box on HMRC’s systems the agent will get an error message when they try to set up the ASA. This type of issue needs to be resolved individually for each firm by contacting HMRC.
- Overseas agents with no tax presence in the UK and no UTR or UK supervisor for anti-money laundering need to follow a slightly different process to set up an ASA. HMRC guidance on how to apply for an agent services account if you are not based in the UK includes details of the information that is required for overseas agents and explains that the application is subject to approval by HMRC.
- Internal tax departments or group tax managers that access online services as an agent may also need an ASA. HMRC advises that the process is to contact the group’s Customer Compliance Manager (CCM) to obtain specific assistance with setting up the account. If the business is not large enough to have a CCM they should phone the VAT helpline to request assistance with setting up an ASA.
- When setting up an ASA it is a requirement to provide details of the agent’s supervisor for Anti Money Laundering. This requirement prevents agents that provide only pro-bono services from setting up an ASA; ICAEW has raised this as an issue with HMRC.
- It is not currently possible to change details in the ASA such as the email address; HMRC is still developing this functionality.
HMRC agent services webinars for further information
HMRC’s Talking Points webinars on agent services and MTD provide updates on the development of the agent service account and the related services. See Help and support for tax agents and advisers for details of forthcoming webinars and recordings of previous webinars.
Detailed screenshots are also available on HMRC’s service for software developers.