The Inland Revenue was still working frantically on Friday to get its self-assessment tax service back online after a serious fault was discovered that compromised the data of individuals using the service to file their tax returns.
The fault, which was reported to the Inland Revenue on Monday, meant that several people who were filing their tax returns using the SA Online service saw other people's tax returns.
An Inland Revenue spokesman said: "We received small number of reports that people were able to view info that was not their own, and so we withdrew the service on Monday. We are working through until we find out until found out what the problem is."
The spokesman said there is no problem with the back-end databases that hold the tax returns of every UK taxpayer. The office later said that the software handling the forms was not to blame either. This software was developed by an Atlanta, US-based company called EZGov, which bills itself as an e-government solutions specialist. EZGov releases a curt statement saying: "The Inland Revenue have made it very clear that they are not apportioning blame for the problem to EzGov."
EDS, which implemented the system in summer 2000 for the Inland Revenue, said in a prepared statement that it was "investigating whether there is a security problem," and said it could not comment further until the situation has been fully investigated. A spokeswoman noted that the Internet service for self-assessment is not down, "and people can still send their tax returns over the Internet if they are using any commercial software products." She said a series of intensive system checks are being carried out. "The self-assessment online forms will be available as soon as these checks are completed and the IR is confident there is no security breach."
The Inland Revenue spokesman said security is of paramount importance and that the Revenue would have to be absolutely sure the system was fixed before it goes back online. However, he said the Revenue did not know when this would be. "We have never had to close system previously for security reasons," he added.
"Individuals can still use the Net to file," said the spokesman, "but just not using our own software product. You an use some commercial companies to file -- We don't endorse or recommend any of these products, but they are all passed and tested for use."