The increasing complexity of the tax system means that nearly half of taxpayers still want to talk to a real HMRC agent for reassurance rather than relying on the HMRC website
Research for HMRC showed that although a majority of taxpayers are ‘somewhat open’ to dealing with their tax affairs online, many (41%) would still prefer to engage with an HMRC representative, particularly for more complex tax inquiries.
The need for reassurance and worries about the consequence of mistakes, were the most commonly reported reasons for preferring direct channels, regardless of levels of digital capability.
This was true for both simple and complex tasks, with taxpayers preferring, when able, to deal with an HMRC representative over the phone.
Half said they would be happy to resolve issues online if they were simple and did not require expert knowledge.
Those who were confident and considered themselves as highly digitally capable still wanted to use phone services for reassurance and a fear of being punished by HMRC for making mistakes.
The survey of 3,644 taxpayers looked at the use of digital and web versus phone services and individuals’ preferences for using each channel.
Three-quarters (75%) said they had some online interaction with HMRC in the last 12 months, while 41% had spoken to HMRC agents directly.
Despite HMRC having invested in improvements to web services in recent years with the launch of the personal tax account, business tax account and the HMRC app, there was an indication in the survey that a high level of demand remains for non-digital channels.
When asked about filing tax returns online, most taxpayers (86%) said they were at least somewhat willing to deal with HMRC online in the future.
Over half of the less digitally capable taxpayers said they were open to trying, suggesting there was scope to increase online engagement if the right solutions can be found.
They said they were prepared to try to use an online form on HMRC webpages (39%), followed by a live web chat with an HMRC representative (22%) and through email (17%).
However, despite investment in various services there was limited appetite for using the new digital offerings. Only 12% said they would use an online tax account while only 7% would use the HMRC app (7%).
HMRC recently said it was planning to invest more money into the webchat service which is an automated chatbot but only 3% of respondents said this was a service they would use.
More worryingly, nearly one in five (18%) did not even know that there were HMRC online services for dealing with their taxes.
The report stated: ‘When asked what would be most important to them if dealing with their taxes online in future, the most common response was receiving reassurance the task had been completed correctly, followed by being able to navigate HMRC’s online systems easily.
‘Customers felt they would be more willing to engage online if HMRC services were easy to understand and use, and HMRC could provide quick and personalised reassurance.’
Those less digitally capable did report that they were much less likely than others to attempt tasks online or through self-serve channels.
Currently, around 8% of the UK population is classed as digitally excluded, which the report defines as having not used the internet at all in the past three months.
These taxpayers said they would prefer HMRC to contact them by post or telephone, standing at 57% respectively.
The majority under this category are disproportionately likely to be older, disabled and have few or no educational qualifications. Of those who were in work, claiming tax credits or aged 16-24, only 1% were digitally excluded.