HMRC promises personal online tax accounts in new digital strategy

HM Revenue & Customs has launched its new digital strategy, committing to personalised online tax accounts

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has launched a digital strategy that will see the creation of personalised online tax accounts for taxpayers and businesses in the next four years.

The plan is HMRC’s contribution to the wider Whitehall drive towards “government as a platform”, which was today endorsed by the head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood.

HMRC’s digital strategy, published on the Gov.UK website today, describes a roadmap for developing digital services to improve how taxpayers and businesses engage with the department. While few of the items listed have specific milestones or deadlines, the strategy outlines the key elements expected to be put in place by 2018.

Central to this are personalised digital tax accounts, based on a “multi-channel digital tax platform”. Personal tax accounts will allow users to “file, pay and make changes across all of their taxes, in a single place” based on real-time data. 

For example, taxpayers will be able to log in and see tax statements, details about tax codes, file tax returns and make payments online. It will also have a secure personal mailbox facility to allow HMRC to communicate electronically with taxpayers.

Individual tax accounts such as this have not been possible in the past because of the siloed nature of HMRC’s systems – in many cases, IT systems were built around particular taxes, such as PAYE or national insurance, rather than the individual taxpayer.

“All of our customers and the businesses we serve will have access to a personalised online tax account. They’ll be able to file, pay and make changes across all of their taxes, in a single place. Customers will increasingly be able to get what they need from us online,” said the HMRC strategy document published online.

“We will use the data and intelligence we have about our customers to present the personalised service. They will feel that we have a really good understanding of what is going on in their lives. When they deal with us it will be as though we are picking up a conversation where they left off – rather than starting all over again.”

To enable personal online services, work is underway on a multi-channel tax platform including the sort of customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities commonly used by banks and retailers to offer co-ordinated services to customers across several channels.

“We are building a new digital platform with a common infrastructure that links existing and new systems,” said the HMRC strategy document.

“This means we will be more consistent and responsive in the way we provide our services. The platform will be secure, reliable, flexible and scalable, allowing us to develop services quickly. We will be able to manage customer contact flexibly through a range of communication channels including phone, secure messaging and webchat.”

Neither of these new digital services has a specific deadline published for implementation, but the strategy document said it expects to see “active relationships develop with customers through digital tax accounts and assisted digital services”, during 2014 or 2015, along with the “first wave of digital services for individuals and businesses designed to help customers pay the right tax at the right time”.

The document said that by 2018 “dealing with HMRC through personalised, multi-channel digital services [will be] the norm for the majority of customers”.

Culture and mindset

The strategy said that the move to digital services requires new skills in the department, and a new “culture and mindset” involving “an increasing number of cross-functional service delivery teams”.

“Every customer in the UK will have their own personalised digital tax account, so we can help make it simpler, quicker and easier to pay the right tax at the right time. This will have big implications for our staff, as well as our customers, involving changes to the types of job we will be doing and the skills we will need,” said HMRC.

One of the key dependencies is developing in-house digital development skills – an area HMRC admits is currently limited. The department started a recruitment programme in January to find 50 staff for a new digital centre in Newcastle. The centre was formally opened in late July but HMRC is still advertising for a number of roles.

Most of HMRC’s IT is currently provided under one of Whitehall’s biggest outsourcing deals – the £800m-per-year Aspire contract, with a consortium led by Capgemini with Fujitsu as a key partner. 

In July, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned the department that it was taking too long to prepare for the end of the Aspire contract in June 2017. The NAO pointed to serious risks to HMRC’s business if it fails to replace the deal in line with government reforms that mandate moving away from large IT outsourcing arrangements.

Every year HMRC issues 245 million paper forms, sends 200 million outbound letters, receives 73 million customer support phone calls and 70 million items of post. The digital strategy aims to change the mix of interactions to be predominantly digital by 2018.

HMRC digital strategy

But the strategy also includes provision for “assisted digital” services for people who are unable or unwilling to transact with HMRC online.

“We know that not everyone is ready or able to use digital services. People have a range of needs so, for example, we’ll need to provide extra support and encouragement for those who need a bit of help, right through to offering different ways for people to get their information into our digital services for those who really can’t do it alone,” said the strategy.

Sir Jeremy Heywood, the head of the civil service, wrote in a blog post on Gov.UK this week that he sees “government as a platform” and digital services as a key driver of change in Whitehall.

“Things are changing in the civil service. The changes might be hard to see from outside – you won’t have heard about them on the news – but they are happening,” he said.

“Technology and the internet in particular, are the driving forces. Many in the world of business understood this and adapted to it years ago. The civil service lagged behind. Now we are changing that.”

The HMRC digital strategy is being led by Mark Dearnley, the former CIO of Vodafone, who joined as the organisation’s new chief digital and information officer in October last year.

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