HMRC finds strong support for online Child Benefit claims – but ‘digital by default’ would cause problems for one in five users
Department publishes findings of study conducted ahead of planned digitisation initiative
Credit: Annabel P/Pixabay
HM Revenue and Customs has found that there is widespread support for its planned introduction of online Child Benefit claims – but research published by the department also revealed that a “digital-by-default” approach would cause problems for about more than a million claimants.
The tax agency – which plans to enable online claims by the end of 2023 – last year commissioned specialist firm IFF Research to survey 1,443 claimants about their current experiences and attitudes to digitisation and other possible future developments.
The newly published study found that 72% of claimants “found the idea of digitising Child Benefit appealing” – which represents a rise of nine percentage points since the previous comparable study, conducted in 2016. This includes 42% that said the prospect was “very appealing”. Some 14% said that the prospect is unappealing.
But the research, which HMRC said does not represent formal policy, also finds that “moving to a ‘digital by default’ position for Child Benefit claims – with all documentation online – would cause a problem” for 18% of the seven million-plus families that receive support. This equates to about 1.26 million claims.
A similar amount of respondents – 19% – said that they would likely need additional support to use a digital service. This figures rises to 43% for claimants whose first language is not English.
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For digitally confident Child Benefit recipients, HMRC found that the majority “were willing to manage all aspects of a claim online”.
The report said that the proposed digital service described to research participants “would be available 24/7, with new applications, changes of details, queries, and any other communications with HMRC conducted via the internet as standard”.
Before moving to such a service, respondents indicated that HMRC ought to conduct a comprehensive campaign to raise awareness.
“Generally, claimants felt it would be essential to receive information about most aspects of the digital service, including what to do if you’re having problems accessing the new service, how to login to the service, and how to notify HMRC of any changes in your circumstances,” the report said.
The study – which reported a current satisfaction rate with Child Benefit claims of 92%, compared with 96% in 2016 – concluded with various important considerations for HMRC to bear in mind while developing any digital service.
This includes the importance of “ensuring access to non-digital routes and support services”, especially for those with limited digital capability or English language skills.
The tax agency is also advised that “security certifications need to be clearly marked and easily recognised to alleviate concerns” about the security of digital channels when compared with paper processes.
“Provision of easy-to-access and comprehensive support will be key to a successful digital service, while provision of non-digital support would be essential for vulnerable groups. However, in order to not undermine a digital service, and to limit reliance on more resource-heavy channels such as helplines, support needs to be comprehensive and reasons for using helplines clearly signposted,” the report added. “Claimants were most likely to access the internet on their smartphone, with lower income families less likely to have access to other devices. A digital Child Benefit service needs to be optimised for mobile.”
Late last year, HMRC introduced the ability for claimants to view or update existing information on Child Benefit claims online or via the department’s app.
“In December 2022, we gave Child benefit claimants the ability to view their claim details and proof of entitlement for Child Benefit online,” the department said in a recent customer-service performance update. “In 2023, we plan to follow that with the introduction of a new digital claim service.”
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