Janet Hughes and Stephen Dunn
Martha Lane Fox
Let's take a look at Chris Mitchell's 25 March 2015 offering. It won't take long.
Digital self-assessment is ready to go live. That's Chris's message:
"10 million people". That's a lot of people. "Tax dashboard"? Clearly this is something to do with tax, self-assessment, tax returns, ... Digital self-assessment. It's big:
The Digital Self-Assessment service has passed its live Digital by Default Service Standard Assessment. You can now access this via your tax dashboard online. It will make self-assessment fully digital for about 10 million people.
Hang on a minute. "June 2014"?
This exemplar service has been public beta since June 2014 and we have over 1.24 million customers ...
This service Chris Mitchell is talking about was first released to the public in June 2014?
But DMossEsq clearly remembers receiving his user ID for Self Assessment Online, as Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs called it then, all of seven years ago. You can see HMRC's letter dated 31 January 2008 when they sent DMossEsq's user ID and activation PIN for the service.
So just what is this service that Chris Mitchell, a service manager for GDS, has been incubating for months and years?
Take a look at his 25 March 2015 blog post. What he and his team claim to have added to the work already done by HMRC is an option to go paperless. You were already able to submit returns on-line. You could already see your old returns on-line and HMRC's letters calculating how much you owed them and their new tax codes for you, year by year. That was already on-line.
What Chris and the team seem to have added is a switch to do it all on-line, don't send the taxpayer a letter, send them an email instead. That's fine, as far as it goes.
But that's not what people are going to understand from "it will make self-assessment fully digital for about 10 million people" – which is that Chris and the team have just made self-assessment fully digital for about 10 million people. They haven't and it's misleading to suggest in any way that they have.
"Ready for Live: Digital Self-Assessment"? Obviously you weren't going to fall for that inadvertent sleight of hand. But there are MPs out there, and even Cabinet Secretaries, who might. Not to mention impressionable people in Australia and the US.
Hat tip Bryan Glick, extract from the The Conservative Party Manifesto 2015 (p.49):
The "tax self-assessments" facility mentioned there was available in early 2007 and possibly before that.
We have already created 20 high-quality digital services, which include apprenticeships applications and tax self-assessments. We will save you time, hassle and money by moving more services online, while actively tackling digital exclusion. We will ensure digital assistance is always available for those who are not online, while rolling out cross-government technology platforms to cut costs and improve productivity – such as GOV.UK.