The Inland Revenue this week revealed that just 41,395 people have submitted their self-assessment tax returns online this year – less than 1% of its potential users.
However, despite the low proportion of online subscribers, the Revenue said it was encouraged by the response – almost double the 21,902 received at the same time last year – and added it had not received any reports of technical difficulties.
A spokeswoman for the Revenue said: ‘There is not one particular factor for the increase, but we are encouraged and remain committed to the government’s deadlines and to ensuring the targets are met.’
The latest figure for online filing is also higher than the 39,292 returns received online for the whole of the last financial year. Although the Revenue would not be drawn on a target figure for the year, it is likely the 100,000 barrier could be broken out of a total of nine million.
The rise is in part due to agents being allowed to file online on behalf of their clients from last April.
The release of the figures follows recent criticism by the government e-envoy, who admitted online tax returns have so far been a failure – but he did say he has his fingers crossed for this year.
In an interview with Accountancy Age’s sister publication Computing, e-envoy Andrew Pinder said of the first year of online tax returns: ‘None of us feels that it was a success. You had to fill it in with lots of reference numbers and if you got anything wrong you had to start again. It was not exactly user-friendly.’
However, he said this year’s technology would be interactive and online.
‘So we will see – we all have our fingers crossed for something better than last year’s performance. If you can offer something that is easier for people, then that is how you will sell these things,’ he said.
Speaking at the CIMA global business management event, last week, Revenue chairman Nick Montagu said the agency ‘will easily meet’ the government’s target to make the public service’s interaction with the public completely web-enabled by 2005.
But Montagu expressed doubts as to whether the Revenue would meet its own target to get 50% of the public to use it by the deadline – which would mean approximately four and a half million taxpayers switching to the service in a little over three years.
He admitted: ‘We’re nowhere near where we’d like to be.’