HMRC have published the results of a number of its different research projects. They all look at digital services, in particular the public's perception of the Personal Tax Account (PTAs), Digital Tax Account (DTA) and attitudes to digital contact in general. 

Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

  • Most customers (63%) said they did not do anything as a result of receiving the P800 Notice of an under or overpayment for the tax year 2015-16.
  • Amongst PAYE customers who under or overpaid tax in the year 2015-16, understanding of and engagement with the PAYE tax system was low. 
  • Amongst the overall population, most could absorb a small amount of additional tax per month (<£42 per month) but for subsequent amounts (£83, £167 and £333), the majority of people said they would face financial difficulties

Personal tax and digital

This survey grouped taxpayers according to their digital dexterity. It seems that all taxpayers will need a lot of educating around the use of the PTA and online.

  • Usage of the Personal Tax Account (PTA) is very low (only accessed by 8% of customers in 2017)
  • More than a third (37%) of HMRC customers who already used the internet to some extent, needed some kind of digital assistance and were less confident performing certain government-related tasks online. 
  • The majority (70%) of those taxpayers found to be highly digitally capable had never heard of a PTA.
  • Mostly young to middle-aged PAYE customers were less keen on the PTA.
  • Six in ten customers (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. 
  • Across the age groups, 16 to 24-year-olds were the most likely to have called HMRC and to have had offline contact only (22%). While across the HMRC customer types, a particularly high proportion of tax credit customers (22%) called HMRC and only contacted HMRC offline in the past year.

The top three services that HMRC customers would find most useful were:

1. Notification of underpaid/overpaid tax and how the amount is calculated (48%).

2. Ability to check Income Tax details (33%).

3. Ability to view National Insurance (NI) contributions and state pension forecast (32%).

Somewhat bizarrely (in the eyes of a tax agent), only 18% of Self Assessment customers thought that ability to allow somebody else to act on your behalf was important. [Editorial note to HMRC: please ignore this finding! Agents all agree that it should be easy to appoint an agent].

Digital engagement

  • Customers’ willingness to use software was mixed and closely aligned with their existing behaviour, digital literacy and age.
  • Customers highlighted particular challenges and annoyances with:
    • Language, terms and codes. Customers felt HMRC’s choice of language was difficult to comprehend, with some also frustrated that HMRC did not understand or recognise the language they used to talk about their affairs. Likewise, customers explained that they struggled to understand how particular numbers or tax codes had been calculated. Customers explained that due to these challenges they often resorted to contacting HMRC, which many found aggravating (see below).
    • Lack of clear, complete or quality information. Customers described being uncertain as to whether an issue had reached its resolution, how long particular processes should take and their entitlements to particular state benefits, tax reliefs or deductions. In some instances, this was linked to customers’ ability to decode the language, terms and codes used, but also the nature of advice provided by HMRC either through advisers or available online.
    • Self-serve options. Some customers said they were unable to answer questions or resolve issues themselves due to the lack of available information or an inability to perform particular functions online/themselves.
    • Communication channels. Customers had used a range of channels to contact HMRC. Traditional communication channels (for example, post and phone) were seen as slow and time-consuming and not always resulting in a satisfactory resolution for the customer (for example, lack of clear information or clarity on their tax position or what they should do next). Views were mixed on current online service quality and suitability. While online access to information and services can make processes easier or quicker, customers had encountered challenges navigating and understanding content and felt it lacked detail (for instance, around expenses customers are able to deduct).
    • Lack of tailoring. Some customers with reoccurring reasons to contact/engage with HMRC (for instance, completing annually required forms) were exasperated that they had to repeatedly complete the same forms and submit the same information. They desired forms tailored to them where relevant information is pre-populated.
  • Encountering these challenges not only caused annoyance for some customers but, in some instances, damaged customers’ perceptions of HMRC as an organisation.

HMRC links

PAY-AS-You-Earn Refresh Research Report
Mixed methods research exploring customer reactions to the introduction of ‘In-year coding’ to help inform the design of the system and related communications.

Personal Tax Account Research
Research to understand customers’ current digital behaviours and attitudes and how HMRC can maximise uptake of the Personal Tax Account.

Personal Tax Account - Digital Customer Segmentation research
Research to develop and understand a digital segmentation to better tailor communications and services for customers around the Personal Tax Account (PTA).

Making Tax Digital Research - Attitudes, Behaviour and Engagement
Qualitative research with individuals to understand attitudes, likely behaviour and engagement with Making Tax Digital.

Making Tax Digital Co design
Engaging the customer in the design of the principles underpinning Making Tax Digital for Individual

Digital Contact Channel Research
Research to understand customer preferences and attitudes towards contact channels when using digital services.

Building Reassurance into HMRC Digital Channels Research
Research to understand how HMRC can address customer reassurance needs through digital rather than traditional channels.