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Website frustration

GOV.UK is ‘misleading’ warns tax group

22nd Nov 2016
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Taxpayers are being misled by incorrect information and silent updates on GOV.UK, according to the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG).

The tax reform group has criticised the government website for simplifying information and “silently updating” errors, which could lead to taxpayers relying on incorrect information and suffering inaccuracy penalties.

The LITRG has therefore encouraged GOV.UK users to keep a copy of the information, or to use archive websites which curate old GOV.UK content.

Anthony Thomas, chairman of LITRG, warned of the difficulties incorrect information presents to unrepresented individuals.

“People who rely on GOV.UK as their primary source of information on government services could not only miss out on reliefs or exemptions from which they might otherwise benefit; they could also incur penalties because the information they are given about what they must do, and by when, is inadequate”, he said.

LITRG has argued before how the over-simplified explanations on GOV.UK have led to taxpayers missing out on tax discounts. A recent example of this, which the group successfully campaigned GOV.UK to edit, involved the council tax relief entitlement for live-in carers.

HMRC eventually updated the inaccurate webpage, but clarity regarding the number of hours eligible taxpayers should provide care for remained missing, and it did not acknowledge the changes made.

In a recent blog, the LITRG used GOV.UK’s marriage allowance guidance to illustrate how its incorrect information has stopped people from claiming. GOV.UK states: “To benefit as a couple, you (as the lower earner) must have an income of £11,000 or less.” But LITRG explains that this information is incorrect where a spouse’s income is mainly made up of dividends.

Also, in a case where a page has been updated, the LITRG has urged the government for greater transparency. “We think that any substantive changes made to GOV.UK content should be visible to the public – ideally those making the updates would put an informative ‘change note’ in, describing the change (as they currently do for ‘published’ guidance on GOV.UK).”

LITRG advises GOV.UK users concerned by inaccuracy penalties to retrieve lost information through web archive sites such as the national archive but warns that the original GOV.UK built-in search may restrict this.

The LITRG’s GOV.UK criticism comes as the Admin Burden Advisory Board (ABAB) is examining how users interact with GOV.UK. The independent board is sourcing opinions on the government site’s ease of navigation and whether it provides the answer the user was searching for.

The problems with GOV.UK are regularly highlighted on AccountingWEB. Echoing much of what LITRG found, AccountingWEB member SteLacca wrote: “The search never returns anything useful, and when you do find what you were looking for it's dumbed down to the point of useless.”


Replies (8)

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
22nd Nov 2016 20:17

Here is what the site should say, saving millions of wasted scarce public resources:

"Just call an accountant, as we are a bunch of useless tossers who muck stuff up and get it wrong."

Thanks (5)
Head of woman
By Rebecca Cave
23rd Nov 2016 09:49

Every page on should carry the warning:
"This information was filtered by pixies who don't know the difference between truth and lies.
If you wish to rely on the information on this page get a second opinion from a professional who has been trianed in the subject area under discussion."

Thanks (7)
By hiu612
23rd Nov 2016 11:06

I had reason recently to call the Birmingham stamp taxes office about a claim to stamp duty relief on a share transaction. Despite being a dedicated office with staff who each deal with claims under only particular sections of the legislation, I was told by the HMRC operative that she opens in the morning, looks up the checklist of 11 questions on that site, and uses it as a tick list in checking the applications. There appeared to be no knowledge or awareness of the underlying legislation and its application. Pretty worrying.

Thanks (3)
By Homeworker
23rd Nov 2016 11:25

Received from a contact in ATT:

"If you would like to send ABAB your views on the HMRC pages of GOV.UK, please complete our GOV.UK online survey" to be found at:

but be quick, as the closing date is 1st DECEMBER!

Thanks (2)
By mfwiniberg
23rd Nov 2016 12:51

I have found and reported a number of errors on various GOV.UK pages including one that made a legally incorrect statement regarding P11Ds. I know of others who have reported other pages for inaccuracy, missing information etc.

From my reports only the P11D was acknowledged and corrected after about 6 weeks.

Yet the stream of self-congratulatory tweets about their wonderful 'agile' processes, user reviews and testing, classes for third-parties, awards won etc continue daily, whilst any criticisms or reports of errors go unanswered.

There are some incredibly talented and skilled people at GDS, but in my opinion they have, like many bureaucracies, grown too large and become self-replicating, whilst losing site of why they were set up in the first place and the reason they exist. My impression is that the 'methodology' has become more important than the outputs from it, and that building the actual web pages is seen as an annoyance which gets in the way of the technology and 'agile' processes.

Thanks (1)
By DianaC
23rd Nov 2016 15:41

HMRC themselves do not know enough about what they are doing, resulting in incorrect penalties and interest being charged. I have tried several times to explain to the person doing a VAT review of my company that a VAT return based on cash accounting principles is very different from the statutory accounts yet they still compare the two and draw inaccurate conclusions - their conclusion being that my company owes VAT when it doesn't. What can we do?

Thanks (0)
By North East Accountant
24th Nov 2016 08:42

Can't beat a printed copy of whatever you are relying on.

Thanks (1)
Chris M
By mr. mischief
24th Nov 2016 18:03

As if to prove my statement above right, yesterday we got the idiotic changes to flat rate VAT. I have posted on here and on other sites over the past few years, all we need to do is amend a few sectors like this:

"Engineer 14.5%"

How hard can that be? Instead these complete twits come up with a daft new set of rules which we'll probably find ways around so clients on 12% will stay on 12%.

You can't make it up how wrong these guys can get really easy stuff.

Thanks (0)