By 31 January this year, the Inland Revenue received a total of 324,710 returns by internet compared to 76,287 in 2002.
This compares with around 7.4 million paper returns by the end of January this year.
An Inland Revenue spokeswoman said the reason for the increase in numbers is due to making the site faster and improvements made on the basis of the onlinefeedback form.
‘Each year we get feedback online. From April we have planned further improvements. At the moment if you go into the Government Gateway you must come out again to get access to the Inland Revenue site. From April there will be a straight through connection.’
The Inland Revenue believed other features such as the online help that people can get as they fill in the forms had encouraged greater use. Its spokeswoman admitted the figures were low compared to people who file by paper, but hoped they “will creep up as more people get computers”.
One satisfied customer, Peter Shearer, technical services manager for offshore investment group, Bermuda Advisers Limited, said: ‘I found itvery straightforward and as easy to use as Amazon.com. I have a 128k broadband connection so was not worried about staying online but it only took me an hour to complete.’
But not everyone was happy with their online filing experience – one user complained that he had been issued with a penalty notice for non-submission when the service broke down and went offline.
Jim Norton, independent policy advisor, and former director of the Cabinet Office ecommerce team, said the upward jump in filing was ‘not bad’, but said the numbers ‘could be a lot better considering how many tax payers there are’.
‘Bigger incentives are needed,’ he said. ‘There’s a big problem with very low usage of e-government sites. Much more boldness is called for.’
A spokeswoman from the Office of the e-Envoy, said: ‘We recognise that British businesses and citizens are not yet using government services online in thenumbers that match the best in the world. We need to ensure that the most popular services are made available as soon as possible to maximise the impactof e-government.’
The spokeswoman said e-Envoy is working with departments to ‘agree a strategy for reform, designed to improve the development, delivery and communicationof our online services’.
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