If your tax affairs are a recurring nightmare, a computer might be the answer. Niall McKay road-tests the software on offer

T he mere thought of taxation can strike fear into the bravest people. But for the 9 million Britons who fill in tax returns every year there is no option. The Inland Revenue has yet to allow fear as a mitigating circumstance.

However, help is at hand. You could buy one of the growing number of personal computer tax programmes on the market. And if you are still struggling with your 11-page 1995 tax return it could be just the answer.

There is a snag, of course. You will need access to a PC. But there is no need to be an expert. Anybody comfortable with the Microsoft word processor will have little difficulty with the programmes.

While there is a plethora of programmes available to professional advisers, only three are aimed at the home market - QuickTax from the US software giant Intuit, TaxCalc from the Consumers Association's Which? magazine and, for more sophisticated tax matters, there is Taxability Pro from Digita.

All three programmes mimic the current year's tax return, offering step- by-step on-screen assistance.

With QuickTax all the user has to do is answer a series of questions. For instance, the programme will ask if the user is single, married, widowed or divorced. If the answer is married, the programme will ask for the number of dependants and so on.

When the questionnaire is completed the programme will calculate the amount of tax owed. The user can then print off the forms, sign it and post it to the Inland Revenue.

QuickTax is the most highly regarded of the three programmes. Its ability to question the users makes the process relatively easy to understand. The user can also input current earnings information into a spreadsheet, then at the end of the year the information will be automatically transferred to the new tax return.

TaxCale offers a more basic service and includes copies of all the Inland Revenue's advice pamphlets. The programme also offers an interview-style questionnaire.

Digita's Taxability Pro is really aimed at the professional user, and priced accordingly. But it can be useful to the private investor, providing a step-by-step guide to the appeals procedure and tax repayments as well as the basic tax return. The programme includes a How do I? command, which helps the user to find help on particular topics. All these programmes will prove even more useful in 1997 when self-assessment comes into force. This means that non-PAYE taxpayers and employees with more complicated tax affairs will be responsible for calculating their own tax.

Spot checks will be carried out and anyone found to be deliberately furnishing the Revenue with the wrong details will be prosecuted.

The Revenue will also be introducing the electronic lodgement service (ELS) which means that tax returns will be lodged via electronic mail to the Revenue's computer.

ELS is likely to follow similar models in the US, Canada and Australia, where agents are appointed to transmit the return on behalf of their customers.

But taxpayers will not be allowed to transmit tax returns over the Internet as it is seen as dangerously insecure. Instead the agents may be the software providers, such as Intuit, as in the US, or photocopy centres as in Australia. The UK accountancy firms have also been testing new systems.

Tax software could prove a useful investment. But be warned. These programmes do not have the ability to make complex tax assessments and it would be easy to pay too much or too little tax.

QuickTax from Intuit is priced at pounds 50 plus VAT or pounds 30 plus VAT for an upgrade. The programme consists of two parts, Tax Planner and Tax Return.

Tax Planner allows the user to plan next year's tax return The interview- style questionnaire allow users to break down questions that they do not understand, and to go back and amend information at any time. QuickTax is available from most large computer retail providers.

Taxability Pro from Digita costs pounds 299 plus pounds 260 for maintenance plus VAT. It is a sophisticated tax planning tool and is really aimed at the professional adviser. But it is useful to those who have to calculate tax on investment portfolios. The product is available from software resellers or directly from Digita on 01395-270273.

TaxCalc is priced at pounds 31 plus VAT to members of the Consumers Association and pounds 44.99 for non-members. Easy to use, the software has some flaws, which will be ironed out by the next release.

It is available from Which? (0171 830 6000).

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Sell it with flowers: competition is 'intense' for homes with outside spaces

Gardens add a tenth to the value of your home

A London estate agent yesterday put a price on having a garden. David Pollock of Greene & Co reckons it can increase a property's value by a tenth.

Spectators at the Isle of Wight music festival watch the World Cup on the big screen. Betting promotions were a feature of the tournament
Lenders have been accused of persuading vulnerable people to borrow expensive credit

Payday loan firms accused of bombarding vulnerable people with nuisance phone calls

Payday loan firms have been accused of bombarding financially vulnerable people with nuisance phone calls, after a debt charity reported that a third of its clients were plagued by the messages.

The foundation proposed that the Government sets up a scheme to help people avoid losing their homes

Mortgages: 'Homeowners could trade down to shared ownership to defuse rate rise timebomb'

A plan to defuse a “mortgage debt timebomb” when interest rates rise is published today amid warnings that 2.3m households could struggle with their repayments.

Current accounts are too costly and confusing, says CMA as it announces investigation into Britain's biggest banks

Competition regulator to investigate market where it's hard for customers to make comparisons and the big banks' charges can be set too high
All the signs have been pointing up for buy-to-let, but there are clouds on the horizon

Buy-to-let: is it a boom or a bubble fit to burst?

People borrowing to be landlords could face the same restrictions as homebuyers, with MPs voicing fears that property speculation may be overheating the market

Moment of truth for payday lenders: Watchdog plans to curb cost of short-term loans

The chief of the City watchdog, Martin Wheatley, spoke exclusively to The Independent's Simon Read about its attempts to control the worst excesses of unscrupulous high-cost credit companies

Consumers given power to choose a green deal

How would you like to be able to choose how your electricity is made and even where it come from? It may sound futuristic and fanciful but the independent supplier Co-operative Energy has made it a reality this week.

'Scrap the trap': calls for change grow as banks are told to play fair with loyal savers

City regulator says existing customers suffer worst rates

Motor insurers divided on proposals for whiplash ban

MPs want medical evidence for claims. Will this bring higher premiums?

British Gas repays £1m for mis-sold deals

British Gas was yesterday forced to pay back £1m to its customers after mis-selling them energy deals.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    BA/PM,EMIR/Dodd-Frank,London,£450-650P/D

    £450 - £650 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

    Senior Analyst - ALM Data - Banking - Halifax

    £350 - £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Analyst, ALM Data, Halifax, ...

    Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/day

    £500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/d...

    Liquidity Reporting-Basel III-LCR-Bank-£400/day

    £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Liquidity Reporting - Basel III - LCR - Ba...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz