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The BBC's Karen Allen
"The timing couldn't be worse"
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David Davis MP, Public Accounts Cttee Chairman
A lot of civil servants have little knowledge of software systems
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Friday, 18 August, 2000, 21:19 GMT 22:19 UK
Inland Revenue web fiasco

Filing by internet could save taxpayers money
The UK's tax authorities had to shut down the website allowing electronic filing of self-assessment tax returns one month after it was launched.

The Inland Revenue said the service had been made temporarily unavailable after technical errors were discovered.

The website was re-opened on 20 August after the software had been upgraded.

Before the upgrade, Inland Revenue staff printed out the electronically filed tax returns and re-typed all the data and details for computer processing.

Now all data are transferred electronically and fed directly into the government's records.

Project trouble

The closure of the website is the latest in a string of hitches plaguing the government's internet projects.

Some estimates are that in the past decade about 25 government commissioned IT projects have collapsed.

Last year, people had to queue for hours to get passports, following a computer problem at the passport office.

Some observers have pointed to the complexity of the tax system as the reason for the closure.

"It shows what a complex tax system we have that even the Inland Revenue cannot computerise it," John Whiting from PriceWaterhouseCoopers said.

Discounts for tax payers

The service had been launched on 3 July and offered one-off discounts to those filing their returns and paying any tax due electronically for the 1999/2000 tax year.

Self-assessment taxpayers who file their returns by e-mail from April, and pay any tax due electronically, receive a discount of 10.

The idea was to get more people to embrace the internet, while also delivering substantial savings to the Inland Revenue through reducing the need for staff to handle posted forms and key in personal details.

But the discount was much less than had been expected and it was thought unlikely to do much to persuade people to change their ways.

So far 300,000 people have registered their interest in filing tax returns online.

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21 Aug 00 | Business
Taxing internet returns
10 Feb 99 | Your Money
No taxes in the new millennium?
20 Oct 99 | Your Money
Q&A: Tax reform
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