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Gov.uk 'not fit for purpose'

Gov.uk 'not fit for purpose'

CIPP | Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP)

5 min read Partner content

The Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals Associate Director Karen Thomson argues that making the new gov.uk website fit for purpose is an 'urgent job for the next government'


Gov.uk describes itself as “the best place to find government services and information: Simpler, faster, clearer.” However, some of its users might disagree.

The Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP) has received a barrage of criticism of the site from its members who are concerned that in an attempt to improve usability for the general public vital information has been omitted.

“It’s not fit for purpose,” says CIPP’s Associate Director of Policy Research and Strategic Visibility, Karen Thomson.

“It’s absolutely great to a point. If you wanted to renew your car tax or you wanted to obtain a passport or you wanted to find out about universal credit; absolutely great. It’s straightforward with all sorts of really useful information. So, really, really positive.

“But then unfortunately you come to a different customer base. You are no longer talking to Joe Bloggs on the street, you are talking to industry experts, and those industry experts include the payroll profession and the accountancy profession.

“We need additional guidance, or we need to have supportive guidance that says what we are doing is the right thing to do.”

The website was created to provide more accessible and streamlined access to important information released by government departments.

Around 200,000 small and micro employers currently rely on the service, but many have faced problems.

Ms Thomson points to calculating maternity payments as just one of the areas of concern.

“It is wrong at the moment and when I say it is wrong, what is happening is it is only using the maternity rates for this tax year. It is not recognising that this goes beyond 5th April, therefore it is a new rate.

“It has also not posted any warning to say: ‘hi guys, if you are going to use this for maternity payments beyond 5th April please note it is not yet up to date.’ There is no warning, there’s no nothing.”

The difficulties being faced by employers are potentially costly for the taxpayer as businesses struggle to compile the correct figures in order to meet their legal obligations.       

“It means that at some point they will be non-compliant,” Ms Thomson says.

This could result in a penalty and in many cases an appeal process, “and so that cycle goes on and it is all taxpayers’ money at the end of the day,” she adds. “When HMRC’s compliance team could be better served actually getting those who are deliberately not paying those taxes that are due. So, there are ramifications economically and for HMRC.”    

She is keen to stress, however, that the issues being raised are not just about presentation but the lack of important content.   
 
“I am convinced that the information they have got from our HMRC colleagues, or DWP colleagues, BIS colleagues, whoever they are, it will have been accurate. What’s happened is, you have got somebody whose job it is following the aims and objectives of what gov.uk is about.

“They will maybe get a ten page piece of guidance and they will say ‘that’s too much for our website, that doesn’t fit our remit,’ and they will simplify it. But by doing that, from what I can gather, they are taking chunks out.

“They are bite-sizing chunks of information but the chunks they are putting in aren’t particularly relevant when it comes to this technical area of payroll legislation or pensions legislation. So, I do think it’s important to mark the difference.

“If you want to do the simple things like passports, great. But Joe Bloggs tends not to do his own payroll. A business man will do his own payroll and therefore they need that guidance, and that is what is missing.”

Given the current concerns the CIPP is urging the Government not to cut HMRC’s budget further in the next parliament.

“There will be a further £13bn worth of cuts to Government. We obviously would express caution around that in particular to HMRC. I have worked for the CIPP for thirteen years and over that time I have seen some extremely talented and experienced staff go. Some through natural retirement – they are allowed to retire - but others through whatever reason as part of these cuts.

“And whilst there are still a number of highly talented and very experienced individuals, these are the people that need to work with gov.uk needs to listen to these people, because those people listen to their stakeholders, which includes us,” Ms Thomson says.

She acknowledges the challenges, but is also pushing gov.uk to accept the advice and make the necessary changes.  
 
“I think they have got a massive job on their hands and I am not trying to undermine or belittle the job that they have got, in fact quite the opposite.
Which is why I urge whatever political party wins the general election they have to put the resource behind this service and part of that resource has to be to serve the experts.

“If it needs to be a PDF manual because it’s got a lot of information that an employer must know, put it on as a PDF manual, don’t try and break it down into little chunks and take loads of information out.”

Supporting small businesses must be a priority for whoever is in power following May’s general election if they are to deliver economic growth and online resources are a key part of that.  

Making gov.uk fit for purpose is an urgent job for the next government but it should also be top of the political agenda.

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