HMRC – still all at sea!

July 13, 2013

Today, my wife and I who live at the same address, received a total of FOUR envelopes from the HMRC relating to Child Tax Credits, in fact they duplicated each other to a greater of lesser extent but two were from Glasgow and the other two from Preston. After sitting down for a while and tracking back to paper work part related to a demand for overpayment for the year 2011 – 12 and the thicker duplicate wadge to the tax year 2012 -13. Unfortunately, the calculation for 2012 – 13 had hidden within it the amount being demanded for 2011 -12, whilst the 2011 – 12 amount supplied a BGC slip attached to send to their Bradford office. So four lots of postage, paper & machine time when one would do, if the system operated as it should.

With the reams of paper involved over the past few years that have taxed my mind in completing them (hopefully) accurately, I hate to think how a person with a lesser education would cope. We have paid the amount on the more threatening demand with a cheque since although an electronic option is available I’m not sure they could cope without the relevant bits of paper and I’m ensuring a paper trail. We will now await a demand for the remainder in due course.

I am mainly relieved that my son is past the age where Child Tax Credits apply now but we still have to battle on with the Student Loan online system that infuriates us all from the moment we log on.

If any government truly wanted to save money they would ditch these convoluted, time-wasting systems and find a way to collect taxes and pay benefits in a more organised manner. By this I am not supporting the massive waste of time that is Universal Credit, but making a suggestion to review all existing systems from the point of view of the end user and cut out all the unnecessary complexity that is over-engineered into them because computers permit it, and the neo-bureaucrats want it.

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What’s the big idea?

July 8, 2012

Yet another ‘big’ paper making ‘big’ things up around the opportunities from ‘big’ data. This time from the right-of-centre Policy Exchange who should realise that ‘big’ data ultimately brings along big government. “The Big Data Opportunity: Making government faster, smarter and more personal” (PDF, 36 pages, 1.21 Mb) is written by Chris Yiu.

There is little mention in the report of local government, which is the hard/chalk/coal face of government to the majority of the population and whilst has minimal control over its budgets thanks to ‘big’ central government, has the most to offer in terms of accountability, local democracy and the effect on people’s lives. Page 7 does highlight the requirement “that ensuring that public sector leaders and policymakers are literate in the scientific method and confident combining big data with sound judgment”, which would be something of a novelty given the tendency of politicians and their puppets to adjust data to their needs – one has only to consider WMD for a start! This is repeated on page 9 “Embracing the big data opportunity will take leadership and ethical integrity of the highest order”, to which I would ask for some real-life demonstration of it first. In also think there’s something contrary in an economist talking about ‘scientific method’.

In a similar manner, those given access to the data are expected to respect privacy, another new experience for those governing – I doubt if any citizen of this country, given the low moral compass of their leaders, would trust any with more information than they have to. This is an accepted fact when the population happily reveal to Facebook and Google data that they’d resist handing over to government. The paper, on page 13, then goes on to present data matching as an alternative to the National Identification card, as if we didn’t have legislation that clearly prevents that type of exercise (unless crime is indicated) – this is more Big Brother than big data, whatever the benefits. The author then goes on to make a number of proposals for the use of big data, along with a stylised desktop for airport management. Some of the ideas will clearly be constrained by existing legislation and data quality, but anyone who has dealt with the HMRC and their ‘credit reference agency’ will know the quality of the data, and the HMRC’s seemingly singular inability to join up their own house let alone share data with others!

As to the use of data mining to identify fraud – a quick read of The Plot Against the NHS by Colin Leys & Stewart Player would indicate that the vulnerability to fraud comes greatest when attempts to marketize services are made, this will apply to all government service not just health. A current example is the investigations being done around A4E. The issue here is not big data but the structuration of services and policy in such a manner that no auditor has the opportunity to smell the rats as they surface. The more complex systems are made, the increased likelihood of fraud and error.

Page 29 repeats the wishful mantra again – “Governments should have the utmost respect for civil liberties – and citizens themselves can and must hold their government to the highest ethical and moral standards”. Citizens should be able to trust government but recent history indicates a majority of politicians can’t be even trusted to do their own expense claims, let alone not mix with the wrong sort of journalist.

I suggest the ‘think-tank’, like some many of their brethren, get some real world experience before indulging their fantasies on the rest of us.

Cynical summary – The report is ‘sponsored’ by EMC Corporation, the recent destination of a former government CIO and a company whom I would imagine make a lot of money out of government accumulating big data.


Uncivil service – Part 2

June 14, 2011

Having written and posted what I did in Uncivil service, I carried on Googling this partnership of the HMRC and Experian, which has to be the partnership from hell. In contrast, I managed to find that the HMRC is also funding a separate advice website with the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group called revenuebenefits. This website is much more user-friendly than the processing nightmare that HMRC/Experian have cobbled together. A further site they are involved in recently picked up HMRC on the equalities issues surrounding their newish system – Fraud prevention matters more than equality to HMRC.

The worrying part is that Francis Maude keeps talking about employing private sector partners  to provide identity checking for government services. Let us pray that they can do better than the HMRC has done, and somebody in government brings the HMRC to its senses.


Uncivil service

June 12, 2011

My acquaintance John Seddon has much to say about how business practices within the UK government are focused on the benefit of those responsible for the service, rather than those receiving them. A recent need to contact the HMRC, our taxation body – once widely feared as ‘the revenue’ confirmed this in many ways.

I’d recently received the annual statement regarding Tax Credits, this consisted of  four pages of statement, largely repeating itself, along with two pages of densely packed explanatory notes. Within the four pages of statement was a question regarding mine and my partner’s income. I don’t believe our incomes have changed much in the last twelve months, but the government has and so I expect a bracket I once fitted in has been removed. Answering this question with a ‘NO’ required the recipient to telephone HMRC.

I tried ringing one day and I was advised that there could be a long wait due to industrial action, so I left it. I tried another time and gave up after a lengthy wait. On the third occasion of waiting, and having answered a lengthy series of ‘press 1 for this’, and ‘press 2 for that’ instructions a lethargic voice finally answered (this was after at least fifteen minutes of hanging on).

I explained that I was ringing in response to answering ‘NO’ to a question in Step 1, under Step C of their Annual Review. I gave her my NI number and she responded that HMRC and their partner organisation Experian required me to prove my identity, and commenced asking me a string of detailed questions including the month and year I had moved into my current home and my previous employer. Since both of these had occurred nearly 25 years earlier I had some problems recalling them at the drop of a hat.

I was then informed that my answers were unsatisfactory and that I would have to attend an interview at my nearest HMRC office to prove my identity. At this point I said ‘enough’. I know who I am, I bank online with a range of providers, renew my car tax online and many other things, but this was taking a liberty, not just any liberty but my liberty.

As stated with the mention of John Seddon, the HMRC is well known to be dysfunctional. It even has a website dedicated to its dysfunction ‘HMRC is Shite’, The issue I have described is raised amongst those pages in a piece called ‘Hanging on the telephone’. This new ‘system’ has to be one of the worst examples of central government bureaucracy gone mad, by turning the horror of the Tax Credit system into a nightmare for any user.

I await the response to my written complaint, there apparently being no other way to contact the HMRC in this context.


Service quality and efficiency

August 5, 2009

In the House of Commons Treasury Committee report Evaluating the Efficiency Programme, Thirteenth Report of Session 2008–09 printed 21 July 2009 there are some recollections to a National Audit Office report of 2007 and its requests when implementing the Gershon programme of efficiency savings. They’re focusing on HMRC but the conclusions are applicable in any application of Peter Gershon’s ‘amazing’ ideas.

In their own words on page 26 of the latest report it is proposed that:

” 75. We welcome the Government’s assurances about maintaining service quality in light of the drive for efficiency savings. However we are concerned that reported measures of service quality are inconsistent with some of the evidence we have received.

We acknowledge that creating new measures may incur costs, but ensuring that service quality is not adversely affected by efficiency savings should be a priority. The fact that departments can select their own measures of service quality may lead to a biased selection of measures that do not give a representative picture of service quality.

Departments should work with the NAO to define adequate service quality measures preferably using data drawn from users.”

Further along on page 28, the committee asks that:

11. To ensure that only true efficiencies are captured and reported, it is important that they are measured appropriately and accurately. We expect Government departments to have implemented the NAO’s recommendations concerning measurement. We expect the Treasury to monitor the progress of departments’ improvement in measuring efficiency. ”

I wonder what’s happened the next time they look? How can service quality be measured without analysing feedback from the customers?

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