This time the powerful, and much reported, Public Accounts Committee turned on the Revenue and its efforts to get service running through a website. Its report says the Revenue has not done enough to make online services, especially self-assessment, of value to users, hints at overambitious targets for use, implies implementation of services has been rushed and highlights public concerns about security.
MPs believe the Revenue needs to set more realistic take-up targets because its current 50% take-up is over optimistic. It believes the speed at which the self-assessment service was introduced has produced teething problems which indicate the Revenue should make time for piloting before launching e-services.
Customers do not get enough in return from using online services. The committee report concludes: ‘Currently the internet service for self-assessment offers insufficient added value to encourage taxpayers to use it instead of the paper-based system.’
The committee also took a swipe at the Revenue’s knowledge of savings to be made from going online. Given that the department intends to spend #200m on e-strategy by March 2004 the committee claims it ‘does not have a full grip on the costs or potential savings for each e-service or for its overall e-strategy’.
Of a potential nine million, 119,000 registered to file online but only 39,000 actually did so. A long way behind the 50% take-up.
Perhaps the Revenue’s biggest task will be to convince the public that online filing is secure, especially after the episode earlier this year when filers reported being able to view the details of fellow taxpayers.
Head of tax at ACCA, Chas Roy-Chowdhury, said: ‘The main problem is the integrity of the IT systems.’ He added that an idea of how many taxpayers might use the service will only become clear when a full year passes without a major failure. That’s a key point but there are still huge cultural barriers to overcome. Perhaps online services will only become widely used when we all switch to a web-based way of managing our lives.
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