If you were bothered by the temporary unavailability of HMRC Online last Friday, an explanation may come in the form of three new elements within the tax department’s website.
The new features have been flagged up as part of the department’s digital strategy for the past year or two.
They went live after many rounds of iterative testing, and they have just passed their service standard assessments.
Their launch was not formally announced, but this was necessary due to the policy purdah that takes place ahead of general elections, according to Government Digital Service (GDS) chief Mike Bracken.
Known as “digital exemplars”, the new services include:
- Your Tax Account: A homepage designed to let businesses file, review and pay their liabilities. This is the successor of the business tax dashboard.
- Digital Self Assessment: A portal for filing personal tax data. It has been used by 1.2m individuals so far and could be the basis of the personal tax account that has caused so much debate in recent weeks. Once your email has been confirmed and validated, all your tax information will be held online and notices will be sent via email rather than post.
- PAYE for employees: A new mechanism allowing employees to check their tax codes. Currently it appears to set up to only accept data about company car use.
Access to these individual services can be gained using GOV.UK Verify, the government’s new mechanism for identity assurance which it tested out with a select bunch of taxpayers over the most recent self assessment period.
Bracken explained in his blog: “With the tax platform doing a lot of the hard interconnecting work behind the scenes, each of these services is built on top. It’s a microcosm of the government as a platform future that we’ve already begun to build: platforms provide scalable, sharable components that service designers can use as tools.”
He noted that HMRC has taken the lead in government digital initiatives, but noted: “Like any large organisation with a hefty legacy and complex policy arrangement – and there really is nothing as complex as our tax code – it runs the risk of codifying this complexity into its operations and software.”
As HMRC officials have made clear in the past, the department itself and the GDS prioritised the online tax mechanisms for individuals. They are, however, continuing to consult with the profession on approaches to agent online self service (AOSS), which they’ve been sharing with participants in the AOSS private beta testing initiative.
The first working versions of this service for agents is due to go live shortly - presumably when HMRC and its contractors have completed the rest of their annual maintenance cycle over the weekend.