HMRC wants tax returns to be as easy as online banking

HM Revenue and Customs is looking at online banking for inspiration as it fundamentally transforms its services to digital

HM Revenue and Customs is looking at online banking for inspiration as it fundamentally transforms its services to digital.

The government department is looking to overhaul its services to be digital and online first.

While the department has a £500bn annual turnover a year, it has recently committed to reduce its spending by 22% over the next two years.

Just under a year ago, the department received an investment from government of £200m to digitise its transactions for two million people.

HMRC has chosen four exemplar services to digitise  – PAYE online, paperless self-assessment, tax for my business and agent online self-serve, but it still has a long way to go before it becomes digital, said Mark Dearnley, chief digital and information officer at HMRC.

Speaking at the Public Sector Show in London yesterday Dearnley joked that HMRC is the “third largest publishing company in the UK". It still sends out 240 million letters per year and prints 343 million forms and guidance, while receiving 70 million inbound letters and 73 million inbound calls.

“There’s a lot we could still work on to be more digital,” he said.

Dearnley said the ambition is to create an online tax account that is as easy to use as an online or mobile banking application online or on mobile.

“There is no reason why over time we can’t provide the same level of service you get from your online bank now,” he said.

He said HMRC needed to provide a single and joined up multi-channel experience. “But technology is only part of the story, there’s a lot more to it,” he said. “The HMRC has designed for 50 years for people to fill in forms and send them to us, we need to go back and fundamentally reform that process as if paper never existed.”

Currently if a citizen calls HMRC, the person answering the call would not know the citizen has previously sent a letter, and if that citizen then goes online, the system won’t know that person has just rung up the department.

“We’ve trained the nation to work in a particular way and we won’t retrain overnight.”

Also, if a citizen sends in a letter to the HMRC, the department will respond to 80% of letters within 15 days. “It’s not a trivial thing to do, but when you click your mouse, not many people will be prepared to wait 15 days,” he said. “We need to move from 15 days to say 15 seconds.”

“It’s a technology change, but much more a people and behavioural change.”

He also added that HMRC will not forget about the number of people who can’t get online, in those cases it will have the right services in place, in some cases Dearnley said HMRC employees will even go to people’s homes if need be.

While the department has a long way to go, it claims to be moving in the right direction. It recently opened a new digital centre in Newcastle, and hired 50 new staff to start building its own digital services.

“Around this we need an ecosystem of SMEs to scale and flex” said Dearnley.

One of its first successes was updating tax credits, which allows citizens who have had no change in circumstance to renew online in under a minute. This first working trial for HMRC was built in eight weeks and has received a 95% approval rate so far.

Also speaking at the Public Sector Show yesterday, the Rt Hon Francis Maude MP and minister for the Cabinet Office. He said: “Governments across the world are beating a path to our door to see how you can make the big swing to digital – HMRC is a great example of that.”

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