In its 2021 Budget, the government announced not only the amount of the fourth grant for the Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS), but also that a fifth and final grant would be made available for the period from May to September 2021.
HMRC is introducing new measures to determine eligibility for those claiming an SEISS grant if they haven’t already claimed.
In summary, you need to accept a phone call from HMRC in which they’ll ask you for proof that you’re carrying on a self-employed trade. This presents risks, as we discuss below.
Here’s what’s covered:
How are the fourth and fifth SEISS grants different from previous grants?
Our separate blogs about the 2021 Coronavirus recovery plan from the government, and the Budget 2021, give details about the SEISS along with all other measures for business announced by the government recently.
But, in summary, the eligibility has been expanded with the fourth and fifth grants, and some new checks imposed.
Crucially for those newer to self-employment, it’s no longer the case that only those who were eligible for the original three grants can apply.
You’re eligible for the fourth and fifth grants if the following is true in addition to the existing SEISS conditions (which are detailed in our original blog about SEISS):
- You carried on a trade, in both the tax years 2019/20, and 2020/21.
- You filed a 2019/20 Self Assessment tax return by 2 March 2021.
- You can provide evidence of trade. In its contact to those affected, HMRC says this could be:
- Evidence of business transactions
- Contractual agreements to provide goods or services
- Evidence of payments through a business bank account
- Any other examples. HMRC says it “will be happy to review them in addition or instead” of these items.
However, HMRC is aware that people are claiming the SEISS grants when they shouldn’t – either fraudulently, or in ignorance of the rules and limitations.
In a recent update, it said it’s “tackling serious fraud and criminal attacks” and that it will “will use [its] power to assess overpayments and issue penalties to support these priorities and we will not seek out innocent errors and small mistakes for compliance action”.
To determine eligibility for the new grants, HMRC is contacting potential claimants individually requesting the above examples of trade.
Initially, this communication will be by letter, email or text, and then via a phone call.
What’s the process for claiming the fourth and fifth SEISS grants?
if you haven’t claimed before or are claiming again after skipping a previous grant because your situation has changed, the steps will be as follows:
- Initial HMRC contact: HMRC will contact you by letter, email or SMS text message to discuss eligibility criteria. This will be based on the details in your Self Assessment, personal tax or Government Gateway account.
- HMRC phone call: HMRC will subsequently phone you to discuss eligibility (see below).
- Further HMRC contact: Assuming you’re eligible, HMRC will contact you a second time by letter, email or text confirming when the latest grant is open for applications, or to check when you can do so (as with previous grants, applications are likely to be staggered to avoid the system becoming congested).
- Grant received: You will receive the grant money around six days after putting in the claim.
How will HMRC phone me about the SEISS grant?
HMRC has confirmed to Sage that it will use the number it has on record for you.
Therefore, you may wish to log in to your Self Assessment, personal tax account, or Government Gateway account to ensure this number is up to date.
Alternatively, you can phone 0800 024 1222 to let HMRC know the number to use.
If your accountant or tax agent handles Self Assessment for you, HMRC may contact them and request your number so they can speak to you directly. The accountant or tax agent is not able to act on your behalf to determine eligibility.
HMRC has also confirmed to Sage that it will try three times to call you. If you don’t answer, it will write to you a second time and ask if you want to proceed with the SEISS eligibility checks.
It adds that claimants will have until the end of the application window for the fourth grant to provide the details discussed above.
So, even if you miss the calls, you should still be able to establish your eligibility.
How do I know if a call from HMRC about the SEISS is genuine?
Put simply, it’s difficult if not impossible to do so.
The call from HMRC has several details in common with the social engineering techniques used by scam callers:
- HMRC has confirmed to Sage that the call will appear to be from a withheld number on your phone. Even if the number identifies itself as being from HMRC in some way, the call cannot be trusted because this is easily faked by scammers.
- The caller may attempt to authenticate themselves by reciting personal details about you that you might feel a stranger simply wouldn’t know. However, hacks of major institutions mean significant personal details about many UK citizens are available online. This includes names, addresses, dates of birth, bank account details, security questions such as your mother’s maiden name, and even National Insurance numbers.
- HMRC says the following, which again follows the patterns of some scammers: “When we call, we’ll ask for proof of identity and evidence of trade in the form of bank statements.” Providing these details over the phone to a stranger presents a clear security risk in the first instance, but demanding seemingly trivial details is another trick used by scammers to demonstrate authenticity.
- HMRC might not inform your accountant or tax agent of the call, so you will not be able to contact them to confirm the call. For example, AccountingWeb has reported that HMRC had emailed taxpayers about the SEISS claim, but did not CC their accountants on the email.
- Although your accountant has more experience dealing with HMRC and therefore is better equipped to spot scam calls, as mentioned above, it’s not possible to ask HMRC to speak to them on your behalf. HMRC wants to speak to you directly.
Often a recommended practice for calls of this nature is to take the operative’s name and office location, then terminate the call.
You should then look online or in official documentation for a contact number you can use to call them back, ensuring you only use a phone number listed on the official gov.uk website.
And, if possible, call them back using a different phone, or only after you have also received a genuine call to the phone that HMRC called.
But even this is not 100% safe.
If a landline is used, scammers have been known to keep the line open when you hang up. They then fake the dialling tone and call process, before resuming the scam. However, this is impossible with mobile phone calls.
You also do not know when the call from HMRC will arrive, so effectively will have to answer all calls from withheld numbers for the foreseeable future until you’re sure your eligibility has been confirmed.
Sage has requested guidance from HMRC about authenticity of this SEISS confirmation call. We’ll update this blog with more information when it’s available.
It’s an understatement to say that we live in unusual times, and contacting people in this way is an unusual measure for HMRC to take.
However, being aware of the above and anticipating the call will help ease the process for those who are self-employed, and the call itself is likely to be quick and simple to complete.
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