If the government ignores the findings of recent research, imposing a digital default on society could exclude up to 30% of the population from using vital government services.

A survey commissioned by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) into the take up of digital services in Europe has found that there is a real risk of overestimating the reach of the European digital market.

Some 30% of Europeans have never used the internet.

The survey, "A digital agenda for European SMEs", concludes that efforts need to be made to manage the risk of excluding and penalising a significant proportion of enterprises through wider adoption of certain digital solutions proposed by policymakers, and calls on the European Commission, member state governments and the IT industry to actively engage with the advisory community if a critical mass of SMEs is going to be reached. 

Significantly, the ACCA, together with the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAEW), Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) and Low Income Tax Reform Group (LITRG) have all expressed major concerns about HM Revenue & Custom's (HMRC) plan for online filing – “Digital by default” and compulsory filing for VAT. They are opposing the plan to provide no alternatives to online filing.

The National Audit Office (NAO) have also been critical of HMRC finding that it has not assessed the cost to companies of filing using iXBRL nor whether HMRC’s online filing systems actually provide good value for money. Most iXBRL software does not automatically tag the required company accounts data, and there have been high failure rates when returns are first submitted, resulting in increased preparation time and burdens for business.   

The NAO have also highlighted CIOT concerns about the timing and impact of system changes on taxpayers’ ability to file online, which this year led to the unfortunate closure of the VAT online system just before the April deadline and delays in iXBRL systems upgrades.