HMRC annual report shows online growth but acknowledges Brexit peril

More people are accessing more online services, department claims, but ‘large amount of uncertainty’ remains around Brexit

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence

In its annual report, HM Revenue and Customs has flagged up ongoing growth in the use of its online services – including an additional four million citizens that set up personal tax accounts last year. 

But the department has also acknowledged that it still faces major Brexit-related uncertainty, which could make “a significant difference” in its workload and timelines. 

The department’s yearly accounts reveal that, as of the end of March 2019, a total of 19 million people have now registered for a digital personal tax account. This represents an increase of four million on the prior-year figure.

Some 10.1 million self-assessment returns – representing 93.1% of the overall total – were filed online in FY19, HMRC said, while the proportion of tax credits renewals conducted digitally rose from 43% in 2017/18 to 47% last year. 

“As well as digital tax accounts, we continue to develop innovative digital customer support services,” the department said. “We held around 1.4 million live webchats with customers in 2018/19 as an alternative to calling us and 32,000 people took part in our webinars. Our mobile tax credits payment app was used 8.3 million times in 2018/19, leading to a 46% reduction in calls on this subject.”

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In the area of transforming tax, HMRC claimed that six of its nine commitments for last year are “on track or complete”, while three have “some risk” of delivery not being achieved. None are ranked as being “not on track”.

Among the ambitions that the department claims are on track are the acceleration of channel shift towards digital services, the addition of new functionality to digital tax accounts, and the use of “pre-populated customer forms, APIs, and online accounts with real-team information”. 

The commitments that have “some risk to delivery” include migrating citizens with tax credits to the Department for Work and Pensions’ Universal Credit systems.

“Managed migration legislation is due to be debated in parliament,” HMRC said. “This debate has been delayed due to more urgent parliamentary matters, which in turn has caused a slight delay to the programme.”

Another area where the department is at risk of not meeting its commitments “building and maintaining specialist capability to deliver EU exit requirements”.

The report said: “Good progress has been made on GOV.UK and IT systems are on track to go live. However, there still remains a large amount of uncertainty around EU exit, which may make a significant difference to what we need to implement and when.”

The necessity of working on Brexit-related projects also poses a threat to HMRC’s efforts to deliver a £1.3bn transformation programme to become “one of the most digitally-advanced tax administrations in the world”.

“We continue to prioritise our transformation portfolio to support additional projects generated by EU exit,” the department said. “In our assessment, the portfolio remains ambitious but deliverable. We will keep our priorities and capacity under review.”

HMRC collected £627.9bn in tax revenues during 2018/19 – a rise of 3.6% on the prior year. 


Sam Trendall

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