by Edward Qualtrough

Paperless HMRC a reality, says chief digital and information officer

Oct 31, 20144 mins
GovernmentIT LeadershipIT Strategy

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs chief digital and information officer Mark Dearnley says the levels of cultural and organisational change at HMRC “are amazing” and its digitisation to becoming paperless is something “we just can’t get wrong”.

Dearnley, the former Vodafone CIO who was brought into HMRC in August 2013, was speaking at the Chief Digital Officer Summit earlier this week shortly after his appearance in front of the Public Accounts Committee to answer questions about the £10.4 billion ‘Aspire’ outsourcing contract with Capgemini.

The former CIO of Cable & Wireless described HMRC as a business with a turnover of £505.8 billion a year, with 41 million users and five million business users.

“We’ve seen a reduction of our workforce by 22%, but we’ve also got an alluring ‘tax gap’ of £34 billion to go after – which makes for a compelling business case,” Dearnley said.

All the tax but none of the paper

But Dearnley said HMRC needed to change its ways from being a paper-heavy organisation and digitise its processes – a legacy which sees the department receive 70 million letters a year, while sending 200 million.

“Nobody told me when I joined I’d be running one of the largest publishing businesses in the world,” he quipped.

“If we stopped using this much paper we could give every postman in the UK five days more holiday a year.

“We have to remove paper from every stage of the process, and it has to be as good as when using your online banking service.

“We can’t get this wrong. A paperless HMRC is not just possible but it is in sight,” Dearnley added.

Digitising HMRC

HMRC is now scanning all inbound post and converting it into a digital format, Dearnley said.

“We are working towards a single view of every customer across the organisation – the levels of change are amazing.”

They have taken around 1,700 different paper forms, removing the ones which are obsolete and converting all forms into mobile and tablet friendly digital iForms which will render on almost any device.

Dearnley said that since April over 300 of these have been converted, and that around 300 are left to do.

“We are moving from ‘print and post’ to ‘submit online’, and with some forms ‘save and retrieve’,” he said. “We plan to be fully online and submittable by March next year.

“It will make a real difference for customers and it will all come together. You will be able to log in to your account and you will see a single history of your contact and transactions with HMRC.”

Government as a disruptor

Speaking after Executive Director of the Government Digital Service Mike Bracken discussed the importance of digital leaders in transforming public services, Dearnley also revealed HMRC would be issuing tools to submit forms for friends and acquaintances, allowing citizens to help others as well as themselves and remove the need in some circumstances of people turning to expensive tax consultants.

“You should be able to do these services for friends and family, for your sibling or a friend down the road so people don’t have to go out there and use a tax agent,” Dearnley said.

“The friends and family will be in a private beta and out by Christmas for a small group of users.”

These types of services were also mentioned by Bracken and CDO of the Ministry of Justice Paul Shetler, who believe digitising public services can help people by simplifying processes and removing legal counsel during difficult periods.

Lasting power of attorney

Bracken said that the GDS had implemented this for lasting power of attorney – a legal document that lets a ‘donor’ appoint one of more ‘attorneys’ to make decisions you a person’s behalf, something often used after a person has an accident or illness and can’t make a decision at a time it needs to be made.

Bracken said: “We have taken 80% of the paper out. People often refer to legal services, which can be the last thing you need for what is usually a complicated process during a very difficult time.”

Shetler said that although the MoJ’s relationship with the public was different from other departments since “the MoJ comes after you – but everybody has to deal with us if they are in a particular set of circumstances”, there is a still opportunities to simplify processes.

“When you go on Amazon you don’t need a solicitor to pay for that book,” Shetler said. “It’s a sign of our times that we need solicitors for so many things.”