Inland Revenue may miss online targets

Concerns about security will put people off submitting their tax returns online, says a key parliamentary committee

The Inland Revenue is likely to fail to achieve its targets for the take-up of its online services, MPs warned on Thursday.

Fresh from lambasting the government for its faults in its approach to the Internet, the Public Accounts Committee has turned its attention to the Inland Revenue.

According to the committee, the Inland Revenue is unlikely to achieve its target of 50 percent take-up of its online services in 2005, because of security and reliability concerns, limited Internet penetration, and a lack of incentives for people to use the Revenue's e-services. Currently fewer than 80,000 users -- less than 1 percent -- are filing their tax returns electronically.

"There are not enough clear benefits at present for taxpayers to submit their tax returns electronically rather than on paper. In addition, potential users of the Inland Revenue's e-services will not be encouraged to make the switch in the light of the well-publicised initial difficulties of using services and concerns over system security," said Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, in a statement accompanying the report.

The Inland Revenue was hit by an embarrassing security fault in May. As ZDNet UK reported, it was forced to take down its self-assessment tax service after it received reports that several people who were filing their tax returns using the SA Online service saw other people's tax returns.

As a government body, the Inland Revenue is committed to putting all its services online by 2005. The committee is concerned, though, that in its urgency to meet this target the Revenue is failing to implement its e-services properly, which could have severe long-term damage.

"Systems that do not work well initially, or are insecure, sap public confidence and this takes time to rebuild. The Inland Revenue needs to pilot and test new systems more systematically, to minimise the types of teething problems experienced on the self-assessment Internet service," concluded the committee in the report, titled E-Revenue.

The committee was unimpressed to learn that the Inland Revenue has a backlog of 13 formal evaluations of completed IT projects, dating back to June 2001, and urged that these evaluations are completed as soon as possible so that lessons can be learned.

For everything Internet-related, from the latest legal and policy-related news, to domain name updates, see ZDNet UK's Internet News Section.

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Go to the ZDNet news forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.