On-line Services - a new opportunity

Published on 11 October 2005

In giving evidence to a team reviewing HMRC's on-line services, LITRG has said that the Department must not lose sight of the interests of those who cannot cope with an on-line environment. Already there are worrying signs that HMRC are turning to on-line only services in the drive to cut costs.

Lord Carter of Coles has been appointed by the Paymaster General to review the needs of HMRC and its customers for on-line services. LITRG was asked to give evidence of the problems that exist for the low income user of on-line services and what steps could be taken to improve matters.

Although many individuals on low incomes will never be comfortable with on-line services there will be a growing proportion of the population which will accept the inevitability of this method of filing returns or claiming benefits.

It will be important to ensure that HMRC do not lose sight of the interests of those who cannot cope with an on-line environment. Already there are worrying signs in the drive to cut costs, of the case for "on-line only services" being made by HMRC. This would be acceptable if a co-ordinated and well-explained "we will print you and send you guidance from the web" was in evidence. But it is not.

This point was made to the Carter Review team together with observations on the Child Benefit, Tax Credits and Self Assessment on-line services.

Problems with existing systems

  • Cumbersome, poorly-designed, printer and back button unfriendly
  • Much information out of date and claims made as to content which do not stand up to scrutiny
  • Systems not joined together
  • Systems not at the forefront of technical excellence and can give misleading results
  • Helplines giving inadequate support
  • Downtime, slowness and non-functioning features undermine confidence
  • Insufficient consideration of the needs of the disabled population or those with special language requirements

Recommendations

As there is now a new opportunity to do something radical and to improve things immeasurably, we hope that Lord Carter recommends:

  • Redesign of all individual on-line services with the full involvement of users, particularly the low income population
  • All systems dealing with individuals should exhibit connectivity to eliminate duplication of data entry
  • All the on-line services should be right up to date as regards information provided
  • All users should be able to communicate with HMRC via e-mail
  • Individual users should have their own jargon-free, easy to understand, gateway to all on-line services
  • A simplified on-line repayment claim (R40) should be urgently created
  • A basic PAYE on-line package should be provided for free use by "domestic employers" (for example, those with disabilities employing carers)
  • All HMRC on-line systems should be upgraded with an eye to improving co-ordination with DWP and local government systems
  • The disabled and others with special needs should receive urgent consideration
  • The upgrading of the search engine should be a priority
  • A formal review of the possibilities of pre-populating returns and claims should be undertaken.
 

Contact Name: John Andrews (Tel: 0844 579 6700; Fax: 0844 579 6701)

(11-10-2005)