NAO says HMRC is tackling tax evasion but needs to further exploit IT systems’ potential

By David Bicknell

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has applauded HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) work in tackling tax evasion to deliver £4.32 billion of additional tax yield between 2006 and 2011. HMRC also reduced staff numbers and introduced a range of improvements in its compliance work.

But, the NAO says, although the Department has introduced new IT capabilities to identify incidences of evasion more effectively, it is not yet exploiting the full potential of the new systems. It has also had to defer and reduce the scope of projects to keep within annual budgetary limits, leading to reductions in benefits.

According to the NAO’s report, the Compliance and Enforcement Programme cost £387 million to 2011-12 and was made up of over 40 projects intended to increase compliance yield – the measure of additional tax arising from compliance work – by £4.56 billion between 2006-2011.

Against that target, the Programme actually reported additional yield of £4.32 billion over the five years to March 2011, with HMRC forecasting that it will generate an additional £8.87 billion of yield between 2011-12 and 2014-15. However, the NAO points out, HMRC will not achieve all of the Programme’s forecast benefits because of changes to scope or slippage in delivering projects, as well as over-optimism in its forecasts.

HMRC reduced staff numbers by the planned amount of 3,374 full time equivalents by the end of 2008-09, two years ahead of schedule. It also generated an improvement in productivity -defined as the level of yield generated by each full time equivalent – of approximately 36 per cent, below its forecast of a 42 per cent improvement. HMRC did not routinely measure the impact of the Programme on customer experience.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said:

“This major programme has helped HMRC to increase tax yield substantially and has introduced ways of working which will strengthen HMRC’s compliance work in future.

“The Department could, though, achieve better value for money from its investment in compliance work by improved understanding of the impact of individual projects and ensuring that its staff have the capacity to exploit new systems to the full.”

On improving HMRC’s compliance work, the NAO report says the following:

 “The Programme has improved HMRC’s ability to undertake compliance work but it has yet to exploit the full potential of the new systems. In particular, the new ICT systems can substantially improve how HMRC assesses evasion risks to identify cases for investigation. HMRC is embedding new systems and approaches into working practices. We assessed the implementation of a sample of projects:

Project design. Overall, HMRC managed design phases well but, particularly on projects to implement new ICT systems, it did not sufficiently consider redesigning business processes or developing the staff capability needed to exploit the full potential of the new technologies.

Implementation. HMRC did not always communicate clearly the rationale for projects and, although it provided training and guidance, these were not always timely or requirements were underestimated.

Assessing the performance of new systems. HMRC has established management information on the use and performance of new systems and, over time, will seek to use this to better understand the impact on business performance.

HMRC – The compliance and enforcement programme

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