After usage of dedicated app shot up in 2023, senior leaders reveal plans to issue a variety of communications while ensuring that citizens can access services seamlessly across digital channels
Senior leaders of HM Revenue and Customs have revealed plans to upgrade its digital services in order to provide citizens with a “consistent, personalised experience” across platforms.
The tax agency will this year “deliver several new digital services”, according to deputy chief executive Angela MacDonald, in written correspondence recently sent to parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.
The aim of these tools will be to better ensure that digital offerings are “built around customers’ needs” and provide a joined-up experience – whether citizens are accessing services online or via the department’s dedicated app.
“For example, we know that customers get frustrated if they start in the digital channel but have to complete a task in another channel,” MacDonald said. “We are introducing new technologies that allow customers to move seamlessly from app to online – they may start a task in the app but can finish it online. Customers will be supported by an integrated digital assistant which can escalate to a webchat advisor where it’s required. Customers will receive a mix of SMS and push notifications to remind them to complete a task and then gain assurance the task has been successfully completed, all without having to call HMRC.”
This integrated approach is currently being tested with users of HMRC’s newly digitised Child Benefit service – which began offering a fully online process for all claimants several weeks ago.
In the coming months, HMRC “plans to use this [integrated approach] across new digital services to simplify the experience for customers and enable us to respond quickly to new initiatives and changing customer behaviour”, the letter said.
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During 2024 the department will also implement improvements to its offering for users of its PAYE and Income Tax Self-Assessment services, including a new tool enabling “customers to manage their allowances, receive refunds or pay money owed at a time that suits them”.
Other amendments will provide users with “the ability to see and understand how their PAYE tax free allowance is made up – enabling them to check the information HMRC holds is correct”, as well as “functionality to tell [HMRC] anything that changes in their employment or income status that will affect their tax-free allowance[or] take home pay, [and] refund or pay money if something is wrong”.
MacDonald added: “In the coming year, we will also enable customers to see and pay their liabilities within their own third party-provided software, without having to leave that software, reducing payment errors. We will have also enhanced the Pay by Bank Transfer function with the ability for customers to schedule future dated payments, ensuring more payment are received on time and error free.”
During 2023, HMRC’s portfolio of online guidance “published 28 interactive products.. including forms, decision trees and calculators. More such offerings are planned for the coming year, including the launch of a digital platform for users to calculate their VAT liability, and a tool enabling businesses to ascertain when they need to declare taxable income, according to the deputy CEO.
She said: “HMRC is providing increasingly interactive, decision-based guidance which has been improving customer satisfaction and has helped reduce the number of customers who then go on to try to contact us by phone.”
MacDonald added: “We are redesigning more paper-based processes to promote and signpost customers to our online services to manage their tax affairs. For example, all Self Assessment notices to file to be issued in April 2024 will carry a QR code that will take customers to the appropriate online guidance. We plan to make more use of QR codes to make it easier for customers to interact with us, throughout 2024.”
The upgrades taking place this year come on the back of a 70% increase in the use of HMRC’s app during 2023 – over the course of which 3.3 million citizens used the app a cumulative total of 80 million times.
The introduction of functionality enabling users of the app to see their employment history for the past five years has resulted in a 53% decline in calls made to HMRC helplines about this issue, MacDonald said. Other impactful improvements made last year include offering app users the capability to save their National Insurance number in their Google or Apple wallet
“So far, 200,000 customers have saved their NINO in their digital wallet with no need to call us or have to wait weeks for a letter,” she said.