Going digital for the benefit of the people?

10 October 2019

Carl Shovlin asks an important question: does every government service need to become digital?

So it was that time of year again.

The time when you get a letter from HMRC and you can see it looks pretty formal inside the envelope. So I gingerly opened it up and to my delight it was a refund of overpaid taxes. I’m not sure how that’s happened and it’s not a big amount, but it’s in my favour and I’m going to claim it.

"When the digital solution is better/faster/more convenient, then the public will follow."

Government Gateway beckons

Now, it’s been quite some time since I dealt with HMRC. The last time I had something like this, it was for an underpayment and they just adjusted my tax code. No bother. But here I was given the choice – I can receive a cheque in the post in a few weeks’ time or I can use the new digital route and get it in three days. Not wanting to keep my beer money out of reach for too long, I went the digital route…

As I said, it’s been some time. So I’m faced with signing up to HMRC’s service – Government Gateway beckons. Happily, it’s been thoroughly renovated since those days of dial-up internet and the multi-coloured self-assessment pages. Off I went to get my passport, popped a few details in and bingo! A fully-fledged account was set up in minutes. And it knew why I was there. A couple of button presses later to enter some payment details and I was done. Easy.

This feeds into a conversation we had at work the other day. Why force people to use digital services that don’t work for them? As a current example, there’s talk about the NHS using AI instead of face-to-face GP appointments for routine screening checks. But this doesn’t work for certain areas of society. So, instead of forcing people, be inclusive and offer some choices like I had above. When the digital solution is better/faster/more convenient, then the public will follow. After all, who goes to the bank to stand in a queue to withdraw money at lunchtime these days?