Saturday 5 October 2013

GDS, agile PAYE on-line

This is the month when the Government Digital Service (GDS) have to deliver.

December 2012

PAYE Online
A new online service for taxpayers who use PAYE to pay tax via their employer. The service will allow individuals to get guidance and information on their tax code and to inform HMRC when they make a change that affects the amount of tax they pay ... (p.17)

The Digital Solutions Programme, together with the Government Digital Service, is developing an Identity Assurance (IDA) capability that can be re-used across all departmental and governmental services. The ID hub is based around the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) standard and gives a route for government to utilise existing, trusted identity providers in the market. A pilot IDA service, using point in time verification (a necessary part of the PAYE online exemplar) to make things simple and easy for one-off transactions will be used in October 2013 with wider IDA capabilities becoming available from October 2014. The new IDA capability will replace the current Government Gateway authentication used by HMRC’s online services with customers being migrated from the Government Gateway in 2015 ... (p.17)

Addressing the user problem
Under PAYE Online, we are giving customers the ability to update information that helps us better calculate their tax code. We are starting with company cars and medical benefits in October 2013. (p.20)
We expected a prototype by the end of 2011, the first public services were due to be tested by February 2012 and live by the autumn of 2012. Nothing happened.

Then we expected it to be fully operational for 21 million people by 31 March 2013. Nothing happened.

Now, we must assume, at last, identity assurance (IDA) is going to see the light of day, this month, October 2013.

What will we see?

Go back to HMRC's December 2012 digital strategy.

HMRC want us PAYE taxpayers to be able to report to them on-line any changes to our circumstances which affect our tax codes.

Until this month, if you wanted to change your tax code, you had to ring HMRC or send them an email or a letter. Now, for benefits in kind, specifically company cars and medical insurance, you'll be able to fill in a form on-line. No more phone calls, emails or letters. That's the promise. "Digital by default", as they say.

Of course, HMRC need to know it's you and not someone else trying to vandalise your tax code by telling HMRC that you're receiving benefits in kind when really you're not. That's where the "trusted identity providers" mentioned by HMRC come in.

This service could be offered over the existing Government Gateway but, no, GDS and HMRC want to operate it on a new pan-government "ID hub".

Will IDA be a reality by 31 October 2013, a year after it was meant to be?


It's still a "pilot service", it will have "wider" capabilities from October 2014 and it will be some time in 2015 before we're all weaned off the Government Gateway – arguably, three years after we were meant to be.

The "ID hub" is meant to offer anonymity. And an audit trail. How can it do both simultaneously? It can't. Will it be as secure as the Government Gateway? Given the daily diet of hacking stories in the press and the post-Snowden revelations about NSA and GCHQ surveillance, is there any such thing as a secure website? No. Given Whitehall's hunger to get their hands on our personal data, is there any chance of our privacy being maintained? No.

It looks, from the HMRC strategy document (and GDS's exemplar no.15), as though we should all have electronic IDs, from the "trusted identity providers in the market" of our choice, by the end of the month. What market? There isn't one. In what sense are these providers trusted? None.

Has anyone got one of these electronic IDs yet? There are only 26 days to go if the agile GDS are to meet their deadline. They're cutting it a bit fine.

"The first service to be delivered using identity assurance will be the Department for Work and Pensions' Universal Credits scheme", we were told back in September 2011. We believed that. It didn't happen.

Nothing to do with me, "not that close to it", ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, chief executive of GDS, told the BBC. Strange, given that he's the senior responsible owner of IDA, and proud of it. Strange, given that he's the man who had DWP's invitation to tender withdrawn in December 2011 and replaced it with his own in March 2012.

Now it's HMRC's PAYE Online service which will be the first. We believe that. Now. But what will we believe come November?

Will we believe that digital-by-default will save money? How?

The planning for this phase of IDA goes back to September 2010. Three years later, HMRC will make sure that there's something for us to see this month. But it will be a pilot service, not a live one. We were warned. By the four professors. For all GDS's claims to be "agile", the Whitehall outcome seems to be the same, delays and resets, starting again at number 1, born again yesterday.

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