Personal tax accounts (PTAs), which were launched in 2015 as part of HMRC’s ‘digital by default’ strategy, have received positive feedback with 40% of taxpayers using it to file their self assessment tax return, according to independent research
HMRC has now published findings from research carried out by Kantar Public during 2016 to assess taxpayers’ response to PTAs. This combined qualitative fieldwork with 16 focus groups and an online survey completed by over 4,000 respondents.
The quantitative findings indicated that the majority (75%) of HMRC taxpayers felt they were likely to use the PTA – and taxpayers were generally positive and receptive to the concept. This was despite the fact that the majority (69%) had not yet heard of the PTA before being introduced to it in the survey.
One in seven (69%) of those who had heard of it had also accessed the PTA previously. The highest proportion (40%) had done so to file their self-assessment tax return, followed by checking their tax code (35%) checked their tax code, while a third (33%) just looked around. Of those who had used the PTA previously, 80% rated it positively.
The majority (73%) of taxpayers could not think of any concerns that they might have with the PTA. Where concerns did exist they were mostly related to security and confidentiality (9%).
The research identified that around a third (37%) of taxpayers who already used the internet to some extent needed some kind of digital assistance and were less confident performing certain government related tasks online, and dubbed this segment ‘assisted digital’.
The qualitative findings suggested this group had lower confidence and higher anxiety around using the PTA. This tended to come from two aspects in combination – perceived high burden and a lack of knowledge as they are less likely to be interacting with HMRC or other organisations online. Fewer respondents (68%) in this category indicated a willingness to use PTAs.
Six in ten respondents (60%) reported having contact with HMRC at least once in the past year. Of those who did, the most used channels of communication were online (45%) and telephone (39%). Of those who had called HMRC in the past year more than half (55%) did not have any digital contact (online or email contact) with HMRC. The research noted that these taxpayers ‘will potentially be more challenging to migrate to the PTA since they are unfamiliar with interacting with HMRC online’.
The qualitative findings revealed that the PTA was seen as a ‘logical next step’ for HMRC, with taxpayers taking the view that moving tax to a digital sphere would make their tax affairs simpler and more efficient.
Many self-assessment taxpayers commented in the qualitative research that the account may make them more likely to complete their tax return across a financial year instead of ‘leaving it all to the last minute’ in January. Others liked the idea that they could log expenses across the year and use that information to make forecasts for the next year.
Key benefits were identified as greater ownership and control with more regular updates; better knowledge of tax; increased transparency, and more open, smarter communications.
Amongst the services which respondents felt would be useful were the ability to track correspondence, the facility to check tax codes, and auto filling of some information on forms.
HMRC notes on the research that the department reprioritised its portfolio of transformation projects in 2018, with a focus on its Making Tax Digital initiative, but says work is still continuing on PTAs, focussing on driving digital take-up and iterative improvements to the existing offer.
Personal Tax Account research is here.
Report by Pat Sweet