HMRC locks taxpayers out of their online accounts | Money
JThousands of people, including pensioners and the self-employed, cannot file their tax returns or claim refunds online, after HMRC changed the way taxpayers log into its services.
Until last month, they could access the accounts after registering through Gov.uk Verify, a government service that allows users to confirm their identity using a UK driving license or credit records. However, last month HMRC unexpectedly withdrew from service.
As a result, people can now only access tax accounts through Government Gateway, requiring them to hold two acceptable identification options from a list including a UK passport, recent payslip or P60, a tax credit statement or a Northern Ireland driving licence.
HMRC advises those who cannot provide the required documents to submit their tax return on paper and call its helpline for information on their tax status.
Louise Wadley, who is self-employed, says she is no longer able to complete an online self-assessment form because she was banned from the account she previously had access to by Verify.
“I don’t have a UK passport and my driving license was issued in England, not Northern Ireland, so I can’t pass the first stage of Government Gateway,” she says.
“The very helpful HMRC call center agent I spoke to was unaware of the change and advised me to file my return by post, even though they are trying to reduce the number of paper returns .”
Gov.uk Verify was launched by the Cabinet Office in 2014 to allow users to access government services from a single account.
To register, users provide their details to one of two approved organisations, the Post Office and a company called Digidentity, which check and verify their identity.
The aim was to register 25 million users by the end of 2020. However, HMRC developed a competing authentication system in 2017 and last year the Cabinet Office announced that its flagship system would close in April 2023.
HMRC’s decision to remove Verify a year earlier appears to have caught its staff and users off guard.
The government’s Verify Login and Advice websites continued to list it as a portal to HMRC services until a week after its removal, until Guardian Money intervened.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), which holds the driver records used for verification, initially told the Guardian that HMRC would use the system until next year.
The 2023 deadline announced by the Cabinet Office was to allow time to develop an alternative system, but HMRC appears to have abandoned Verify with no back-up plan.
He told Guardian Money he was working to increase the range of acceptable ID, but he could not yet accept a UK driving license because the DVLA would not allow him access to its database. .
According to the DVLA, officials only requested access last month and processing of the documents is still ongoing.
To compound the problem, technical issues prevented many users from logging into Government Gateway and, until March, advisers on HMRC’s community forum directed them to Verify instead.
The decision will impact pensioners and young people who do not have employer payslips, as well as foreign nationals who cannot provide a UK passport.
Loïc Baron, who is French, has been trying to set up a tax-free childcare account, using the HMRC gateway, since moving to the UK in 2020.
“Checking in requires a UK passport, which I don’t have,” he says. “I had to apply over the phone, with many calls and a wait of about half an hour, as a ‘digitally excluded’ person. As a software engineer, I find it hard to believe that I fall into this category.
Derek Mullins* says his 17-year-old daughter hasn’t been able to correct her tax status because she doesn’t have the required ID.
“She was overtaxed by several hundred pounds and the HMRC website told us that to fix this we needed to set up Government Gateway access for her,” he says.
“A passport and Northern Ireland driving license are required. As we live in England of course she was unable to oblige.
The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group says the change will have a significant impact on many users. “Removing the Verify option is not helpful given that there are still issues with Government Gateway that need to be resolved,” a spokesperson said. “The results of this decision seem somewhat at odds with HMRC’s move towards digital.”
HMRC told Guardian Money that those unable to access their accounts online could settle their cases via its helpline – despite an automated message warning callers of busy lines and long wait times – or by letter .
This month it was revealed that HMRC had only responded to 52% of correspondence within 15 days of receiving it in February, compared to 88% before the pandemic.
HMRC says: ‘Most customers can deal with us online safely and we are continually looking at how we can increase accessibility to Government Gateway without reducing protections.
“We are always offering alternate ways for customers to access our services when they cannot use Government Gateway.”
*Name has been changed