The government is phasing in its landmark Making Tax Digital (MTD) initiative, which will see the introduction of a fully digital tax system, with businesses and individuals being required to register, file, pay and update their information via a secure online tax account.

From 1 April 2019, businesses with a turnover above the VAT threshold (currently £85,000) must keep digital records for VAT purposes and provide their VAT return information to HMRC using MTD 'functional compatible software'. The government recently announced that it has made the decision to delay the mandation of MTD for VAT until 1 October 2019 for a small minority of VAT-registered businesses with 'more complex requirements'.

Keeping digital records and making quarterly updates will not be mandatory for taxes other than VAT before April 2020, although businesses below the VAT threshold which have voluntarily registered for VAT can opt to join the scheme.

'Functional compatible software' is defined as 'a software program or set of compatible software programs which can connect to HMRC systems via an Application Programming Interface (API)'. The software must be capable of keeping records in digital form; preserving records in digital form for up to six years; creating a VAT return from the records held; providing HMRC with VAT data on a voluntary basis; and receiving information from HMRC via the API platform.

Firms are permitted to keep digital records in a range of compatible software programs. The use of spreadsheets is also permitted, provided that this is in combination with MTD software. However, HMRC has outlined that manual data transfer is not allowed: copying by hand or manual transposition of data into software is not permitted, and cut and paste will not be acceptable in the long-term.

HMRC will not be providing taxpayers with MTD software. Currently, it is working alongside software developers in order to ensure products are on the market by the MTD start date. HMRC will provide a full list of MTD-compatible products as soon as possible: an initial list can be found on the gov.uk website.

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