By Daniel Hunter

A quarter of small firms do not know there are major changes to the way they will have to report their payroll coming into force in only six months time, according to a Federation of Small Businesses' (FSB) survey.

A snap poll of 1,700 small firms found that only 16 per cent of respondents were fully aware of the ‘Real Time Information' (RTI) programme - a new flagship way of reporting payroll — and shockingly, a quarter (25%) had never heard of it, despite it being critical to the success of Universal Credit.

RTI is a new programme designed by HMRC to gather regular information about employees. It aims to simplify reporting new starters and leavers as well as make the payroll process simpler and less burdensome. It will also support the payment of Universal Credits to those who receive them. Two thirds (66%) of respondents to the FSB's survey are not confident that RTI will achieve these aims.

With less than six months to go until businesses have to comply with the new rules, more than 60 per cent of firms have not had any communication from HMRC about the changes.

Businesses think that learning new processes (33%) to deal with the changes as well as dealing with potential enquiries and inspections from HMRC (24%) will pose a challenge to their business.

"With only six months until RTI is due to be implemented, the FSB has real concerns that not enough businesses are aware that is just around the corner," John Walker, National Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said.

"This system is linked to the Government's flagship Universal Credit scheme and we're concerned that it could flop if Government does not step up its game in communicating the changes.

"There are a number of steps that a business must complete before they can provide Real Time Information to HMRC so it is critical that those affected know about it. Of the very small number of firms that are aware of the change, 30 per cent have had to buy new software for their business. HMRC needs to act now so that all small firms can prepare their business as they only have six months in which to do it.

"Without adequate communication and education from Government, small firms won't be able to prepare. It just isn't fair if they're then penalised for not complying."

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