Growing concern over GOV.UK content

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AccountingWEB members have expressed concerns about the quality of HMRC website content being migrated to the new platform, GOV.UK. 

This isn't the first time accountants have expressed concerns about the content, with members initially commenting on the issue back in March last year

Since then, the HMRC website and its content have been being migrated to new government online portal, GOV.UK. 

Webpages, guidance and manuals have made the move, and accountants have been concerned about the quality.

"They do seem to be so simplistic that they are positively misleading." said Paul Wakefield. 

One practitioner who found the new site not all that bad, is Paul Scholes. 

"It did come as a bit of a shock a couple of weeks back when I returned to a bit of EU VAT stuff I'd been looking at the day before and got transported to the new site, however now that I've spent some time digging and surfing I don't think it's that bad.  

"The detailed stuff is still there and it's certainly easier for Joe Public to use the basic guidance and, don't forget, that's who it's designed for (we're supposed to know it all!)," he said.

In a blog earlier in June, HMRC's Agent Strategy, stakeholder and engagement team encouraged accountants to give feedback. It also asked them to report any errors or omissions they found on the site.

But member Ken Howard, who said he has reported errors multiple times, has claimed his reports are going unnoticed. 

Another element of the site accountants are concerned about is the ability to find the relevant information. Several members have said they had 'given up' searching for material after being redirected around the website.

In addition, the website's beta forms, layout and large font are more points of contention for practitioners.

About Rachael White


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11th Nov 2014 12:39

Like much in life

the old adage, "if it aint broke, why fix it", might well apply?

Whilst I can find my way around the "new" arrangement, I really am struggling to see any material improvement.

Was the alleged benefit related to cost?

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By Lissa
12th Nov 2014 15:53


Definitely this has been done to save money. The Government's previous websites were produced by external suppliers and were costing them an arm and a leg. The transition to an in-house managed project brings large savings, increased control over functionality/design/etc and a consistent front end. Easy functionality for users is a bit more of a moveable feast at the moment, though it has improved from when the Treasury migrated onto the site.

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By NHGlos
11th Nov 2014 12:44


It might be better for Joe Public, but accountants/tax advisers don't know everything (despite PS's point) and it seems difficult to find the detailed guidance.

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By jlsmith
12th Nov 2014 12:30

How are we supposed to 'know everything'?  Do this acquisition of knowledge happen by a magical process of osmosis?  

From my own experience, I gain knowledge by looking at, inter alia, official guidance (hint: found on government websites). To suggest the sites should not be aimed towards practitioners and professionals is boneheaded.

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11th Nov 2014 13:05

Does anyone know........

Where proper PDF copies of the VAT notices are, all I could find is those crappy HTML ones, and the look of the printed page is extremely poor on these, with fairly minimal attempts at formatting the document.



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By Old Greying Accountant
11th Nov 2014 14:20

I'm with Paul Wakefield ...

... if Joe Public acted on much of the content they could find themselves in deep water, especially if they are one of the many exceptions to a law!

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11th Nov 2014 16:40

Couldn't agree more

I gave up in frustration looking for the guidance booklet on statutory maternity pay for employers.  Either it is there well hidden away or they don't think it's important enough to transfer across, in which case I ask why not?

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12th Nov 2014 08:58

I loathe it

I don't like the font or format which is presumably designed to work on mobiles and tablets rather than for pcs or laptops. I find it quite hard to read (even though my eyesight is not 100%) compared to pretty much any other website.

It is very much dumbed down for the general public which is dangerous and frustrating. I looked up something about passports a while back - so nothing to do with accounting and tax - and had to dig very deep even there to find a sensible answer.

I cannot help feeling there is a bit of an agenda across the piece to obfuscate.

Re the forms I think there is a move away from pdfs but not sure where I came across that. I assume with the idea that they can all be filled in on line in due course.

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12th Nov 2014 14:54

I totally agree with Anthony123.

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12th Nov 2014 10:27


The website is awful ... it is too dumbed down!

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By Xina
12th Nov 2014 11:48

important details missing

Was there yesterday looking for statutory interest for overdue payments: agree is dumbed down - whilst making it readable is a laudable aim it misses key information like where in law it the regulations are - If I write to a creditor I need to be able to refer to the source

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12th Nov 2014 11:52

Growing concern over GOV.UK content


I have found the info on here basic, simplistic and often dangerous.  Regarding VAT the only solution is to go to the VAT Notices which now cannot be downloaded in pdf form. 

It is as if a deliberate minefield is being set up.

Also - have you rung the VAT helpline recently - 10 minutes of menus followed by website information only to be told everyone is 'busy' and then be told to ring back later.  Would I were able to run my world on this basis.

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By chatman
12th Nov 2014 12:03

Lack of pdfs doesn't bother me. I hate having to download them and much prefer html.

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12th Nov 2014 12:27

HMRC's Website

was not the greatest but it provided much more information than the awful Gov.UK.

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By norstar
12th Nov 2014 12:31

Companies House is next...

It's awful. It reads like a four year old wrote it. Now Companies House is going over.

I'm all for a simplistic site for the public's benefit, but accountants need a resource too - and a dumbed down site like doesn't cut it.

It's a dangerous change and for what?

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12th Nov 2014 12:43

Dumbing down of

I too am really struggling to find detailed HMRC guidance on a variety of issues.  I have also found some information on employment of nannies which is clearly wrong and have sent feedback asking for the information to be changed.  They made one minor change which was insufficient and have requested a rewrite which apparently has been sent further up the chain.  It is one thing transporting the information from one web address to another - it is another thing to dilute all the content.

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12th Nov 2014 13:07

GOV UK content
Oh woe is me. How I look back fondly at the days we had printed instruction booklets. Take SMP. One could read, digest, toggle back & forth to be able to make a reasoned decision based on good understanding. It's the time factor now - furling about on the web trying to find & isolate what you are looking for. Pick up an instruction manual & you are there in seconds.

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12th Nov 2014 13:12

Print off what you rely on

I am not sure this is directly relevant but have been used to printing off what I rely on.

HMRC sometimes withdraw things and what comes back bears no resemblance...

I matters as not looking at HMRC "guidance" is one of the sticks they are apt to get out when they are trying to get a penalty to stick. No matter how obscure or well buried or even confusing..if its there they can ( try to ) use it as a stick. 

Long way from sensible discussions thrashed round a table but that is the world we are in I think !! 

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By Nebs
12th Nov 2014 13:54

They don't make websites like they used to

The old Inland Revenue website was the best, my first port of call for tax queries, everything I needed was easy to find. 

Makes you wonder if all the money spent on these so-called website improvements would be better spent on, er, um, just about anything else.

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12th Nov 2014 13:59

I have reported errors (usually just grammar or typos), but also - in one case - navigation (marine that is) information that was misleading and incorrect. In all cases, my reports have been resoundingly ignored and the errors left...

The GDS team espouses good aims, and they use Agile development methodologies (though how well applied is a moot point) to research user interaction with the site as it develops and supposedly to ensure that it is usuable by the vast majority of 'clients' of This is all very admirable, but (as an old git software developer) having looked carefully at the 'person specifications' for various posts, and also knowing someone who is in the GDS team, it is obvious that it has a very young culture, employing some very clever young people.

Unfortunately, that rather misses the point that the majority of users of GOV.UK that struggle with it are either elderly or otherwise computer disenfranchised people, or people with extensive experience in either the legislation that GOV.UK is supposed to be informing about, or experienced in interacting with government over many years. Almost none of the people on the team seem to have eny experience of as either a claimant, business user, service provider (eg accountants, harbour authorities etc) or as someone lacking the knowledge or skills to traverse the system whether through unfamiliarty or disability.

The consequence is - like so many government initiatives - that it looks perfect to the people designing and building it, it looks good to the ministers commissioning it (because they never have to more than skim it superficially but it only actually works for people who have the same level of computer literacy and mindset of the builders in the GDS team.

This is a great shame, because the idea behind the re-design is laudable, but it starts from the wrong viewpoint: that because something is 'complicated' it is necessarily 'difficult' both to understand and use. In fact, what is off-putting to many people is not the complexity, but the fact that it is on-line and the interface to the information is not in a form with which they are either familiar (ie paper) or accessed by interacting with a person rather than on-line.

There are some government websites that couldn't fail to be improved no matter how badly they were redesigned (the non-domestic RHI application section of OFGEM springs to mind - which is an absolute exemplar of how not to design an interactive site). But many on-line services (eg self-assessment etc) have evolved over time into complex, but perfectly usable systems to anyone reasonably computer literate (eg who knows how to complete their tax return) and their 'dumbing-down' just makes things more difficult for everybody.

Ah well, nothing like progresss I suppose!


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12th Nov 2014 14:03

Did anyone ask for changes?

Having had use of the old site but extensive use of the HMRC website I'm not liking what I'm seeing so far.  Seems to me as usual that a change is being enforced upon, well,  everyone and the infrastructure to back it up (i.e helplines) aren't there, or if they are the wait is usually so long you've forgotten why you rang by the time you've negotiated the multiple choice/shout what you want menus, hung on and listened to the "your call is important" message and that bloody hold music.  Is this really better than the old personal input method with someone you could actually sit down with?  You'd think with the amount of money they must be getting in from fining everyone left right & centre they could come up with something better....

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By errigal
12th Nov 2014 16:21

I thought that I was the only person shouting at the HMRC voice recognition system.

I reckon that the only people benefiting from all this IT stuff at present, are the IT consultants!

It probably will get better in a few years or decades from now!


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By dlac
12th Nov 2014 14:18

Charity Commission Website

has suffered the same fate - and is much harder to find what you need - searches take you back to the full website, so you have to trawl through piles of junk or go back to a google search and be more precise.

The really irritating thing is that the charity commission website went thru a major update less than a year ago.  Unless it was in preparation for this move, how much money do they waste on this stuff?

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12th Nov 2014 14:25

What do HMRC use?

I thought that under the Freedom of Information Act, internal HMRC guidance, with certain specific exceptions to prevent fraud and hamper investigations, had to be available to the public. This is why the manuals were published in the first place. We, the public, are supposed to have access to the same information as HMRC staff.

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12th Nov 2014 15:35

Good Old Days

tonyaustin wrote:

I thought that under the Freedom of Information Act, internal HMRC guidance, with certain specific exceptions to prevent fraud and hamper investigations, had to be available to the public. This is why the manuals were published in the first place. We, the public, are supposed to have access to the same information as HMRC staff.

I don't mind the HTML personally.  I have had a few instances of not being able to find internal manuals, which I hope is resolved as these are the most helpful.

I (sort of fondly) remember the good old days in the VAT office. Our LVO had Jean and Jean controlled the stationery room which included notices.  It was her life's mission to ensure nothing emerged from this room, including anything an officer may need (you had to take the remains of your old biro back to get a new one for example). The public would be very lucky to get any notice!


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12th Nov 2014 15:12

Searching is difficult

I agree with dlac. Thankfully I was looking for an update from the Charity Commission website so had the detailed name of the document from a prior year to search for. Otherwise it would have been useless. Does anyone know if there is away to use search and restrict it to the area you are interested in e.g. ex hmrc content?

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12th Nov 2014 15:29

Noddy does tax

I think, unfortunately, most of the call centre staff are probably using the same "Noddy does tax" material that we are seeing on GOV.UK. That is understandable, because as we know they don't have the depth of training that they used to get. Quite what the grizzled TO(HG)s who whipped me into line as a graduate entrant Inspector in training would make of it I shudder to think.

To give the team their due, it is often very well written once you accept the premise that it is designed to be read by the general public. It's a bit like newspapers. The Sun is actually a very well-written paper; extremely economical with wordcount and very clear. Its headline writers are the best in the business. But if I want a detailed explanation of a complex financial issue, I'm going to read the FT.

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12th Nov 2014 16:03

E Unum Pluribus

As well as the dumbing down, why are things spread across several pages? It used to be everything was on a single page where you could scroll up and down (or use the index links to leap to the section you wanted). Now every subject seems to have half a dozen pages or more, Previously, I could use the scroll wheel on my mouse to move up and down rapidly, Now, even with fast loading times, navigation is slowed significantly by having to actively locate the link to move to the next section. Even more frustrating if you've flicked back and forth between all pages and the simplified format means the information you want isn't on any of them now anyway.

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14th Nov 2014 11:55

Mobile access

I imagine that the low word-count, large type size approach is intended to make the content accessible on mobile devices, so it's aimed at lowest common denominator users rather than professionals, and designed with the latest I-device technology, or the ability to use it on the next generation devices without rehashing it.

I can shrink the 'Noddy' layout (nice one, Mike) on a PC with the Ctrl key and the scroll wheel, and there are often pages where there's a link to 'Print the whole guide', which is useful, as you can then dump the content to PDF if you prefer it that way.  The problem is less the 'Janet & John' design ('Roger Red Hat' for younger readers and maybe GOV.UK programmers?) and more the shallowness of the content and the poverty of coverage - much of the really useful content I had bookmarked on HMRC and DWP sites simply can't be found, and when you've finally found a link to what you were looking for, it takes you back to a generic page you've already seen and discarded as useless.

I feel like I'm wistfully reminiscing about the days of vellum, parchment and decent quills, but I could live with the pinch-responsive layout (although I use Android rather than iOS) if there hadn't been a major misjudgement over the content transfer.  It's almost as if government doesn't want us to know some things.

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12th Nov 2014 17:00

It's naff!

Was there ever a consultation document on this? 

It's too dumbed down and as many people on here have commented, Joe Public could find themselves in hot water if they just use this.

My thoughts on this are that HMRC is (behind the scenes) being prepared for privatisation; parts of it have already (Transactis for tax credits, Swifts bailiffs for DMB) and that simplifying things in this way makes it more attractive for a private company to take on.

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12th Nov 2014 20:06

Spotted Last Weekend

I was unaware of the plan to switch platforms: my ongoing belief was that HMRC was for a more detailed explanation of tax getting down to the nitty-gritty; and was for a more 'overall' explanation so that the much mentioned Jo public could get an overall opinion - and presumable seek out an accountant should they require a more detailed explanation.

Last weekend was I trying to get a more detailed explanation of something, forget what!, and ended up getting passed to - which had never happened before - and I was surprised that I was presented with basic information I was well aware of  - I was after the more detailed explanation.

As you may gather, I am a firm favourate that there is the need for 2 sets of explanations - an overall view point, and a more detailed explanation.  Why hasn't HMRC understood this?

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12th Nov 2014 21:24

Dumbing down of HMRC information.


  I don't think the dumbing down is for Joe Public: it is for the benefit of HMRC staff.

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13th Nov 2014 13:33

I hate GOV.UK

I don't like the 'in your face' font. I also miss the links and shortcuts that surrounded and the lack of a HMRC home page. GOV.UK is so inefficient. Compare with the same announcement at Note the useful links on the old site for agents, employers, home etc. All missing from the new site.

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13th Nov 2014 14:11



Hey I never thought of that.

But that makes sense.

If you think about everything that is going on.. 

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By chatman
13th Nov 2014 16:06

What do HMRC staff use? Do they have to look at the same new pages as we do?

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13th Nov 2014 16:18

The HMRC staff I have spoken to ...

... don't like the new site but they don't seem to have a channel through which they can feed back their opinions. I can't understand the need to change. I feel the cost of the change must be greater than maintaining the existing site.

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14th Nov 2014 09:03

I have not read all the comments above but only some of them.

However I do not understand why anybody in their right mind would say that it is good and is fit for purpose-to use a current polital adage.

My opinion.  It is rubbish and shame on the idiot who decided that the original site needed changing.

As somebody wrote above-if it aint broke no need to fix.

The font is wrong.  it is simplistic and a valuable tool for both accountants and taxpayers has been lost.

Furthermore-Co. Hse website is amazing and is being migrated to HMRC.  What fool decided on this.  It will become useless like the current HMRC one.

I am entitled to my view and that was it.  Plain and simple.

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14th Nov 2014 10:58

Glossy looking site - alarm bells

The new GOV.UK site is a very cool, glossy looking site, very nice, very pleasing to the eye compared to the HMRC site where everything looks so boring.


And that's when alarm bells start ringing. I find the GOV.UK site just terrible. Budget Day/Autumn Statement - why is it that I have to go through several hoops and pages to get all the documentation? Wheras the HMRC site, there was a specific page from which you could navigate everything. Now HMRC still has this page - but it just take you to GOV.UK...

And why is it that to get any new information we now have three different sources - HMRC What's New, the Announcements page that takes you to GOV.UK and twitter. I actually found the news on one important EU case announced on twitter, but nowhere else.


It's the same principle as the Annual Report. The best ones are boring looking and have masses of writing and minimal photographs. The minute the paper becomes glossy and you see pictures of all those slick photogenic directors, and photos of the brand new HQ, you just know that you're in trouble.

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14th Nov 2014 12:05

GOV.UK please respond

This is yet another thread criticising GOV.UK. So come on GOV.UK - why doesn't someone there write a defence. Or is the silence proof that there is no defence? And what about HMRC staff? Would someone from 'officialdom' please respond.

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14th Nov 2014 12:48

HMRC response

Hello all, 

I have received a response from HMRC which I will post soon. They were asked for a reply before this article was written but hadn't responded until yesterday.

I have had none from the Cabinet Office as of yet, unfortunately. 

Thanks for all of your interest in this.


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14th Nov 2014 17:10


Hi all 

Please see this article: for the response.


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15th Nov 2014 20:49

So government can now tick the box and one project completed...

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18th Nov 2014 09:43

Change for the sake of it.

Personally I dont like change for the sake of it, which is exactly what has happened here.


Mind you is it the old adage NO ONE LIKES CHANGE.

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19th Nov 2014 12:48

It does have a purpose other than change for the sake of it

My understanding is that the old variety of government websites were generally built on old technologies and the electronic world has moved on.  The aims of the upgrade seem to be to modernise the tech (both at the government end and the user interface) so that it is more easily updated and more accessible (eg, by mobile devices) and to make all official information available from the one portal.  Our problem as professionals is that the focus appears to have been on the technology rather than the quality and completeness of the content. 

Modernisation of government IT has to be welcome, provided it works for the user.  A couple of months ago I used one of the government online services and it refused to play because I was using Internet Explorer 11 (ie, the latest) with which that particular site was incompatible.  The helpline knew instantly what the problem was (why hadn't they built it to work with the world's most widely used browser?) and advised me to use Firefox or Opera, which worked first time.  IE11 may well work now. 

They are like every other organisation that is heavily reliant on technology - it never works first time, and IT is complex so it takes time to get things right. Until recently, I couldn't update the maps on my satnav using IE11 either, but it now works because the providers have caught up with the development.  HMRC will catch up, but I just hope they have kept all the useful information we used to be able to find and will resurrect it once is working properly.

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By Old Greying Accountant
18th Nov 2014 09:55

I must say though ...

... was looking at the bed and breakfasting and section 104 holding rules yesterday in response to a client query and found it actually very good, certainly much easier on the eye than the HMRC site and seem ed to be technically competent too.

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28th Nov 2014 11:16

Conspiracy theory ;-)

I think is a cunning marketing ploy by Tolley and CCH et al to stop us from getting material for free...

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By NHGlos
11th Dec 2014 08:03


They've started to move Companies House over...

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11th Dec 2014 09:09

Companies House new home page

NHGlos wrote:

They've started to move Companies House over...

The old is now How can this be an improvement? The old home page fitted on my screen. The new home page requires scrolling down 7 whole screens. Why does the Government think this is better?

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By NHGlos
11th Dec 2014 09:17


I discovered the move yesterday when I went to search fro some general company information. The company search page, company information order page etc. is in the "old" format, it looks like it might be getting a piece by piece transition...

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