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Company Accounts and Tax Online - Beta Assessment

Company Accounts and Tax Online will allow the smallest companies with the simplest tax affairs who are unrepresented to file their Company Tax return, accounts and computations. It will be a digital online product which will be a quicker and easier service to use and will allow the user to file to HMRC and Companies House at the same time.

Department / Agency:

Date of Assessment:
1 July 2015

Assessment stage:

Result of Assessment:
Not Pass

Lead Assessor:
L. Reichelt

Service Manager:
M. Duffield

Digital Leader:
M. Dearnley

Assessment Report

The Company Accounts and Tax Online service is seeking permission to launch on a domain as a Beta service.

Outcome of service assessment

After consideration we have concluded the Company Accounts and Tax Online service should not be given approval to launch on the domain as a Beta service.

The panel were very impressed with how well the service team had been working across two locations and organisations, and how smoothly they have integrated content designers and designers into their process since the alpha assessment.

This is a large and challenging service and much of it has improved from the alpha assessment. Where the service differs from established GDS design patterns, the service manager and content designer are clearly comfortable discussing the iterations and user behaviours that have caused them to make those design decisions.

The team is very obviously working well together, are making a lot of good progress and are on a very positive trajectory, however they acknowledge there is still some work to be done to improve the overall service. The panel found that there are some aspects that require further work before the service is ready for public beta.


  • The service team are overly reliant on the functions and facilities provided by the tax platform without understanding the detail or limits of what is available. The operation of running the service has been devolved to the platform team, but the team showed little understanding of how it’s monitored or what happens in the event of problems. This lack of understanding could lead to gaps in what the team believes is being monitored and managed compared to what the tax platform are actually doing.
  • The service is reliant on integrations with a number of other services but doesn’t appear to have monitoring in place to determine if these integrations are working. Instead, the service team are entirely reliant on monitoring provided by either the tax platform team or the other services, but is unclear on how this monitoring works or what happens in the event of problems.
  • Additional work needs to be done to understand the needs of potential assisted digital users. Based on landscape research, the service team assume that there will be a need for assisted digital support but as no users had been identified, there was no evidence of what the need might be.
  • The existing free filing service is used by a group of users for whom it was not designed nor intended and they will not have access to the future service. Some user research should be done with these users to understand their behaviours and why they choose to use the existing service. These users need to be supported through the transition to an appropriate alternative to the new service. Early and responsive communications with this group of users should be undertaken as soon as possible to remove unnecessary risks and issues from the service.
  • The service is unable to perform end-to-end testing in an environment identical to live due to the numerous integrations with legacy systems. This makes it extremely difficult to gain confidence that the service will work and will continue to work whenever changes are made to the legacy systems.
  • The service has not been tested on multiple browsers or devices.
  • Although the HMRC and Companies House transactions have been integrated on-screen, proposed support for users is not integrated and it wasn’t clear to the panel where a user would go for help when. The end-to-end user journey needs to be worked through to ensure that support is consistent through the whole transaction and that users are aware that support is available.
  • The service team plan to use the HMRC support model to provide telephone talk-through and agents inputting on behalf of users. There was no evidence of a plan to test and measure this support in public beta to ensure that it meets user needs. As the transaction is lengthy and complex, this is essential to know how the support can be improved to meet user needs, for example ensuring that staff are trained on the whole service, that there is sufficient capacity and appropriate availability of support etc.

Recommendations for beta reassessment

  • Point 1 - The service team must undertake more user research to identify potential assisted digital users and their needs. This will require more creative briefing for user research recruitment, for example seeking users who choose to use agents to file in order to avoid having to file digitally themselves. Also contacting current users who file on paper; speaking to other government agencies or associations which work with small businesses; working with contact centre staff who support people with the current service; starting research with small charities.
  • Point 1 - The team should undertake some user research to understand the needs of the group of users who will not be able to use the new service in the future, manage the impact of withdrawing the service from them and support them through the transition to an appropriate alternative to the new service.
  • Point 3 - The team should consider how they are going to operate the service and understand the limits of the responsibilities of the tax platform team.
  • Point 6 - The team should understand what monitoring is currently in place for systems which the service is reliant on. Where possible, the service should provide it’s own monitoring of the services to ensure that the team is aware of problems when they occur.
  • Point 7 - The team should have a clear understanding of what the threats to the service are and consider how these could be mitigated. The understanding of threats should be shared with the team where possible to ensure they are considered at every stage of development.
  • Point 9 - The service must use agreed open standards where they are available. In particular, the service should ensure that any PDFs generated comply with the PDF/A standard.
  • Point 10 - The service team must consider how they can improve their end-to-end testing to gain confidence that all their integrations with other systems work as expected. Additionally, the service must consider which browsers and devices their users will be using and undertake appropriate testing to ensure the service works on these browsers and devices.
  • Point 12 - The team should continue to simplify the language used in the service and to provide sufficient supporting information so that users can succeed with the service first time, and to support users to ensure they have all the information they need, in the correct format, so they can succeed with the service.
  • Point 12 - The service team should demonstrate that the end to end user journey for assisted digital users has been considered and that there is a plan to test proposed support in beta to ensure that it meets user needs.
  • Point 14 – (a) The service team needs a plan for phasing out non-digital channels across the end to end service, including exploring the reduction of paper reminders and paper filing of annual Accounts at Companies House. (b) The service team should also be able to talk about the transition plan for moving end users from the old service onto the new service or an appropriate alternative for those users who won’t be able to use the new service.
  • Point 17 - The team must engage with the Performance Platform team to ensure a dashboard is ready to be published when the service launches its public beta phase.

Before going live:

  • Point 8 - The team must release their code under an appropriate licence before returning for a live assessment.
  • Point 11 - The service team should gain greater understanding of what happens in the event of the service (or part of the service) being unavailable.

Digital Service Standard criteria

Criteria Passed Criteria Passed
1 No 2 Yes
3 Yes 4 Yes
5 Yes 6 No
7 No 8 Yes
9 No 10 No
11 Yes 12 No
13 Yes 14 No
15 Yes 16 Yes
17 No 18 Yes