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Online recommendations receive guarded welcome from tax group

26th November 2010

The government's response to a report on improving its online services has won the qualified welcome of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT).

The report, which was drawn up by Martha Lane Fox, the founder of Lastminute.com, argued that more public services should be moved online.

It said that that as well as delivering better services for citizens, shifting 30 per cent of government service delivery contracts to digital channels has the potential to deliver gross annual savings of more than £1.3 billion.

Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, praised the findings and recommendations of the review.

Mr Maude said: "We will use digital technology to drive better services and lower costs. At present we inherited contracts that effectively limit the number of people who can use some online services. And for most benefits it is simply not possible to apply online. This is inconvenient, expensive, wasteful and ridiculous and it cannot continue.

"The shift towards online services also has the power to transform the relationship between government and individuals."

The CIOT welcomed the government's commitment to boost the delivery of services online, especially as they apply to the tax system.

However, the tax group also warned that current practices are having the opposite effect, making it more difficult to find the relevant information online.

John Whiting, the CIOT's tax policy director, commented: "Bringing together government online services in 'a single domain based on agile shared web services' is a worthy ambition.

"Providing taxpayers and agents with adequate, accessible information and reliable services will help taxpayers and HMRC alike, helping both to work more efficiently and increasing compliance."

But Mr Whiting continued: "However this is contrary to what is happening at the moment, where tax information that used to be available all in one place is fragmenting across three websites - HMRC, Business Link, and DirectGov, making it harder for taxpayers and agents to find the information they need.

"Tax information needs to be available in one place and systems need to work 100 per cent of the time."