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Hundreds of thousands of taxpayers hoping to defer the pain of their annual tax bill by paying on plastic will be hit by an HM Revenue & Customs ban on personal credit card payments which comes into force from January 13.
The ban is a response to new rules that mean HMRC will no longer be able to pass on the bank charges for processing credit card payments.
The timing is likely to cause difficulties for some of the 11m Britons trying to complete their annual tax return, as it comes just before the January 31 deadline for settling 2016-17 tax liabilities.
HMRC sent out written warnings with tax bills this month stating: “From 13 January 2018 HMRC will no longer accept payment by personal credit card. Debit cards and corporate credit cards continue to be accepted.”
In 2016-17 there were 454,000 personal credit card tax payments worth a total of £741m and around £3.2m of bank fees.
HMRC said personal credit cards only accounted for 0.8 per cent of payments by volume, and 0.2 per cent by value.
Taxpayers are advised to settle their bills using direct debit, online or telephone banking services provided by their bank.
Observers said the ban might surprise some taxpayers, especially the self-employed, who often pay by credit card in order to spread the cost of a large bill.
“I know that I will not be able to pay my tax bill in cash — and why should I?” complained Brian Barrett, an accountant from Chipping Norton who said he only received a letter outlining the ban in mid-December.
“Pulling the payment rug out from beneath me at such short notice should simply not happen. I understand that the legislation banning card payments may have been around for many months — why has HMRC not given people more time to plan their payments?”
James Daley, managing director of Fairer Finance, a research group that campaigned to have card charges outlawed, said the outcome was “never the point of the campaign”. He said the decision amounted to “penny pinching” by HMRC and would cause problems for taxpayers.
“More people are self-employed these days. Tax bills can be quite large and some people need to put them on credit cards,” he said.
Jordan Marshall, policy development manager of IPSE, a professional body for freelancers, said: “This change has not been well-publicised by HMRC. Banning credit card payments just before the self-assessment deadline is likely to create problems for both freelancers and the tax authorities.
The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, a charity, said the change would have an adverse effect on those on low incomes who relied heavily on their credit cards.
The decision by HMRC coincides with new rules that will make it illegal for any business to charge extra for using a debit or credit card. The government introduced the new rules — described as a clamp down on “rip-off card charges” which were “unfair for millions of people across the country” — as a result of an EU directive.
HMRC said that, as a public funded body, it was unable to absorb the cost of personal credit card fees because this would ultimately mean charging the fees back to customers through the public purse.
When HMRC introduced the ability to pay by credit card in 2008, there were fears it would encourage people not to put money aside to pay for tax. It has become a popular option, especially after credit card payment charges levied by HMRC were cut to around 0.4 per cent in April 2016.
Taxpayers who want to use credit cards are being urged to file their returns and pay their tax bills before 13 January. After that, the options open to those currently reliant on credit cards to fund their tax payments include taking out a personal loan. Alternatively they could use money transfer credit cards to borrow money and transfer it to their bank accounts. They might also be able to negotiate “time to pay” with HMRC.
Taxpayers are no longer able to pay by cash or cheque at the Post Office, after the Post Office Transcash service ended on 15 December 2017. The ICAEW, the accountancy body, said the move followed the expiry of the contract with Santander which allowed this method of payment.
HMRC said: “We will no longer be accepting credit card payments from 13 January as new rules mean that we can no longer pass on what our bank charge for processing a personal credit card payment. There are a range of ways for people to pay us depending on the type of tax being paid, including debit cards, Direct Debit, Faster Payment and BACS.”