Sir David sets out a better deal for the taxpayer

Published on 11 December 2006

We were pleased to see that the Varney report on Service Transformation, which was published alongside the pre-Budget report, draws attention to many of the service delivery issues which LITRG have highlighted over the years.

Prepared by Sir David Varney and endorsed by the Chancellor, the report addresses the needs of the most vulnerable in society who are seen as having the hardest task in accessing Government services. The Chancellor has promised to publish a delivery plan next year.

From our earliest Report in 1998 - Older people on low incomes - Case for a friendlier tax system to press releases issued this year, we have consistently recommended improved flow of information between Government departments - When will government join up? and better information for citizens. We have also reported on the difficulties and cost of telephoning HMRC - How much does it cost to ring HMRC? and questioned any requirement that citizens must inform several departments, or even several sections of the same department, of the same change in circumstances - Helping the bereaved

In his report Sir David, who until recently was Chairman of HM Revenue & Customs, advocates joining up government front-line contact. He starts by recommending one set of contact services for reporting a bereavement, and illustrates the present state of affairs with an example of a bereaved person who contacted government agencies 44 times over 180 days, and still not everything was resolved. Such experiences lead Sir David to recommend setting up more cross-government one–stop-shop services.

The report is also highly critical of the thousands of published telephone numbers for government departments and the varying call charges. One recommendation is that when the new 0300 number range is issued in 2007, it should be used to simplify access and tariffs to all government departments and local authorities. Now in our view calls should be free wherever there is an obligation to contact the tax office, and while this recommendation does not go as far as that, the cost would at least be standardised. We also welcome Sir David’s suggestion that a separate government phonebook should be published showing much fewer public sector access numbers, but clearly identifying the role of each department.

As our research has also previously identified, Helplines often provide services well below expectation. The report suggests a need for more coordinated helpline services starting with a debt, tax, utility and benefits advice line.

Finally, the proposal to bring all government department websites together under one corporate website should make access to information much simpler for those who can use the internet. Nevertheless, we would argue, this should not happen at the expense of those who have to rely on paper information.

All of this makes good reading but as ever the proof will be in the delivery.

(11-12-2006)

Contact: Robin Williamson (Tel: 0844 579 6700 Fax 0844 579 6701)