E-government is a nightmare

I’ve just had the dubious pleasure of trying to use the Inland Revenue’s website to file my tax return. Last year I thought I’d take the plunge and try using their site, and it was a pretty nasty, anxiety-inducing, experience. This year they didn’t even send me a form, but instead I got a letter saying I should just go to the website since I did so well last year.

The first hurdle I met was when I tried to log in last week and could not find any record of what my username or password could have been. I eventually tracked down my username in with last year’s tax return (why couldn’t they have sent it to be again this year?) but I still had no record of the password. So, I filled in the ‘send me my password’ option expecting an email, only to be told that it would be in the post. At that moment I found my password but of course it didn’t work now I’d filled in the form. So, that was it for that day and my new password arrived several days later. I don’t have a problem with this security approach, but there was no warning that any of this would happen to me when I went and asked for my password.

Once I’d broken through the security today I was met with a text-heavy page that told me I could use the IR’s own software to enter my details, suggesting I could have some sort of choice, which I really don’t. So I went through to the entry pages and found that some of my basic details were there already and some weren’t. It would not have been hard for them to fill in my date of birth – they had filled in my address – as it’s not likely to have changed since last year. Anyway, I filled in bits and eventually felt I’d had enough for the day so went back to the dense welcome page. Here, I decided to add my email address to the system, but that simple addition resulted in an ‘application error’. That does not inspire confidence.

On the whole, the website is hard to use and lacks enough explanatory information. There is a strong attempt at security which seems to do more to get in the way of usability than anything else (my username and password are both random strings of numbers and letters, for example – online banking has got around this problem far more effectively). If you have the misfortune to have to fill in these things, I recommend the paper version for now.

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