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Inheritance Tax - Alpha Assessment

Inheritance Tax Online is a digital service to help customers understand what they need to do after someone has died with specific regard to their Inheritance Tax and Probate affairs. The two processes are closely linked as legislation requires that HM Courts and Tribunals must not grant Probate before Inheritance Tax has been paid or that it has been determined that none should be paid. Where customers need to make an application for Probate, the service will enable them to make an online tax return and with the ultimate ambition of allowing the customer to make a combined Inheritance Tax and Probate return to appear to the customer as one digital service.

Users of this service have often recently suffered a bereavement of a close relative, the nature and timing of the process usually results in customers approaching the service for the first time and in circumstances that they are not familiar with.

Department / Agency:

Date of Original Assessment:
26 January 2015

Date of Reassessment:
12 March 2015

Assessment stage:
Alpha Review

Result of Original Assessment:
Not passed

Result of Reassessment:

Lead Assessor:
N. Williams

Service Manager:
T. Charlton

Digital Leader:
M. Dearnley

Reassessment Report

The Inheritance Tax Online service has been reviewed against the points of the Service Standard not passed at the original Alpha Review assessment.

Outcome of service assessment

After consideration the assessment panel have concluded the Inheritance Tax Online service is on track to meet the Digital by Default Service Standard at this early stage of development.

The service team have made significant progress in simplifying the process for users, splitting the form into two distinct registration and information-gathering steps to eliminate the confusion of a confirmation screen part way through the journey, and introducing logical branching so that users are only shown the questions they need to answer depending on their circumstances. The service team have also applied more scrutiny to each question and its need to be there, eliminating the unnecessary form fields the assessment were concerned by at the original assessment. The content design is much clearer and more user-centric, and consistent with the GOV.UK style guide.


None in addition to the previous assessment. (Previous recommendations regarding the beta phase still stand).


The assessment panel were very grateful for the service team’s positive engagement with the feedback from the previous assessment, and were pleased and impressed by the improvements the team have made in short order. The assessment panel have every confidence that the team will continue to improve the design and content as they develop the beta service and test it with users.

Original Assessment Report

The Inheritance Tax Online service has been reviewed against the 26 points of the Service Standard at the end of the Alpha development.

Outcome of service assessment

After consideration the assessment panel have concluded that, in spite of many positives and being generally headed in the right direction, the Inheritance Tax Online service is not yet meeting the Digital by Default Service Standard at this early stage of development.


The assessment panel felt that although good work had been completed in developing the prototype thus far, the service does not yet pass on points 9 and 13 of the standard. In particular, the assessment panel would like to see more evidence that the service team are challenging the underlying assumptions of the existing paper-based form and trying out approaches to the overall design of the service which are more radically different from one another than the small iterations they have been making so far.

Overall, the assessment panel were pleased with the way the service is being built to address valid user needs. The team developing the service has the skills, knowledge and working practices to apply the principles and approach set out in the service manual, and is led by an empowered Service Manager. The assessment team were confident that the Inheritance Tax Online team is well set up and are working together to deliver iteratively. The team are working autonomously with the full support of the business and in close collaboration with the back-end project the service depends on.

The assessment panel were confident that the service team understand the needs the service must meet. The team has a strong culture of gathering and using evidence from user research and analytics, with a regular rhythm of testing and feeding the results of that testing back into the service development each sprint. In addition, all members of the team are observing and participating in user research.

Recommendations for Alpha Review reassessment

The panel have every confidence that the service will pass a re-assessment provided they address the following recommendations.

Design and Content design - points 9 and 13

The challenge the service team face is predominantly about making a complex process simple, and the panel recommend that they ensure they have sufficient content design input - at the moment this feels under resourced. The panel think that an additional, dedicated content designer working closely with the designer and user researchers would help them to be bolder about challenging the underlying assumptions of the existing form and process. For example, by only asking users for the information really needed at the point when it is really needed, keeping help text short and minimal, and trying different approaches to structuring the content.

The panel raised specific concerns during the meeting about the user journey and interaction design - most notably the confirmation and reference number step after creating a case, which feels like the end of a journey not the middle; and the very long step 7 where the user is asked to provide valuation data for the estate and an additional UI pattern is introduced. The service team should try out approaches to the overall design of the service which are more radically different than the small iterations they have been making so far (for example, splitting it into separate, linked transactions instead of one linear form and see if that’s better for users). The panel also suggested they service team look at how some of the exemplar services have tackled similar challenges in their multi-step transactions.

Recommendations for beta

The team - point 2

The service team are currently supported with a high percentage of contractors. At beta assessment we would expect to see a plan in place to address this balance and build a sustainable multidisciplinary team that can continue to own, operate and improve the service when live.

Assisted digital and digital take-up - points 10 and 11

The team have done some initial user research and have developed some basic assumptions around potential assisted digital user needs (including creating a persona) and expected volumes. For the beta assessment, the panel will expect to see that these hypotheses have been tested rigorously through user research and that support is developed that meets the needs of users of this specific service.

Research must be undertaken with a broad cross-section of all potential users, including those who would currently pay for an intermediary to complete the form. Any support relied on in the voluntary sector must be sustainably funded by the service so this should be explored before the beta assessment, ready for testing assisted digital support in public beta.

By the beta assessment, the service team must have developed a clear plan for digital take-up, based on user research and analytics.

Make source code open and reusable - point 15

For beta assessment the panel expect to see steps taken for this project to be coded in the open, with all code published in open repositories. Where this is not possible there should be a convincing explanation as to why.

Next Steps

The service team should follow any recommendations made in this report and see the Government Service Design Manual for further guidance. In order for the service to proceed, the panel require a reassessment against the not passed criteria.


The service team were well prepared for the assessment and gave thorough answers to the panel’s questions. Overall the panel was pleased with the work undertaken on the service so far. With some additional development on the prototype, the panel believe the service is well on its way to meeting the requirements of the standard. It is clearly needed and will make for a much less painful experience for users than the paper-based services it is replacing.

Digital by Default Service Standard criteria

Criteria Passed Criteria Passed
1 Yes 2 Yes
3 Yes 4 Yes
5 Yes 6 Yes
7 Yes 8 Yes
9 No 10 Yes
11 Yes 12 Yes
13 Yes 14 Yes
15 No 16 Yes
17 Yes 18 Yes
19 Yes 20 Yes
21 Yes 22 Yes
23 Yes 24 Yes
25 Yes 26 Yes