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This in from HMRC today, in their own words:

From 29th March 2016, HMRC will start to offer more Self Assessment customers “2 Step Verification” when logging into their Tax Account. This means customers will, if they wish, be able to link their mobile phone with their log-in details and help protect their account against fraud.

We wish to advise you of how the service will operate in case your clients ask you any questions. If a client chooses to activate this service, it will be quick and easy to link their mobile phone. Then, in future when they log in, after clients have entered their User ID and Password, HMRC will text them a code which they will enter to gain access to their Tax Account. If they lose their phone or change number, 2 Step Verification can be deactivated by ringing the Online Services Helpdesk.

HMRC is working together with professional bodies to increase awareness of cyber risks and protecting against them; raising awareness about 2 Step Verification is part of this initiative. HMRC will ensure agents are kept informed on cyber security through agent emails, Agent Update, as well as via the Tax Agent Blog. Customers are being made aware through direct emails, and information bulletins to other partner organisations.

Why are we introducing it, and what are the benefits for your clients?  

  1. Security. We know that criminals attempt to use stolen log-in details to access and exploit customers’ Tax Accounts. Without the registered mobile phone, they are far less likely to succeed.
  2. It’s easy, and many people already do it in other walks of life. 2 Step Verification is very common across internet banking and email services.
  3. It’s free.
  4. It is popular with users – in January 2016 c.600, 000 Personal Tax Account users opted-in to use the service.

What do your clients need to do?

Look out for the option when they log in to Your Tax Account from 29th March, and simply follow the on-screen steps, with a mobile phone to hand.

HMRC will offer the service to Your Tax Account customers who are enrolled in Self Assessment gradually to ensure that customers are comfortable using the service. So it may be several weeks before it appears as an option.

Is it mandatory?

It is optional at this stage because we recognise that this method of 2 Step Verification won’t suit all customers. For instance, if they:

  • work in an area where there is no mobile network coverage;
  • don’t have a mobile phone that they are comfortable using for this purpose; or
  • access Your Tax Account through tax/accounting software.

However, we are continuing to develop other solutions which improve security and will suit these customers better. Tax agents will be kept informed of future cyber security enhancements by agent emails, Agent Update, and via the Tax Agent Blog