At the moment, the only way they can approach the AO is by post, telephone or fax – even though it’s the government’s aim to make public-facing services “digital by default”.
Commenting on the move, which commits HMRC to providing access via email or some other secure digital channel by the autumn at the latest, Treasury Committee chair Nicky Morgan pointed out that, while the AO plays a valuable role in resolving complaints against HMRC, not enough people are aware of its existence. Even when they are able to, it is often difficult for them to make contact.
“As the adjudicator told the committee, the lack of digital access to the AO’s service is not defendable,” she said.
“Public-facing services simply have to be digitally accessible these days. While it is astonishing in this day and age to say this, HMRC’s long-standing overdue commitment to provide a digital channel for the public to contact the AO is welcome.”
HMRC made the commitment following a letter from the committee in which Morgan raised the question of a £20,000 grant that HMRC agreed to give the adjudicator, Helen Megarry, in January for a secure email.
A month later, however, HMRC told her that it would not be able to provide the email after all, because of “other competing priorities within HMRC”.
After hearing evidence from Megarry, Morgan wrote to HMRC urging it to reconsider its decision and give higher priority to providing the AO with “such a basic digital service”.
In response, Jim Harra, HMRC’s deputy chief executive, explained that as EU exit preparations had been made and the roll-out of Office 365 within HMRC completed, the AO’s secure email project was now in the IT programme for the current financial year.
“Work is underway to scope the requirements,” he said. “Our aim is to deliver the change by the autumn, and potentially sooner if that proves feasible.”