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Personal Tax Account - Alpha Assessment

Personal Tax Account will equip HMRC customers to more effectively take ownership of their HMRC affairs in one place through their own secure digital account, which they can access when they want to, and as often as they want to.

Department / Agency:
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)

Date of Assessment:
28 April 2015

Assessment stage:
Alpha Review

Result of Assessment:

Lead Assessor:
A. Lister

Service Manager:
M. Kinsella

Digital Leader:
M. Dearnley

Assessment Report

The Personal Tax Account 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 the Personal Tax Account service is on track to meet the Digital by Default Service Standard at this early stage of development.


The concept of a single source of personal tax information and one place to provide updates and make changes was supported by user research data - there was an evidenced user need for the information to be in one place.

User needs and user research

The team has begun exploring a very complex landscape of user needs. It was demonstrated that many potential service users have fear of HMRC and encouraging them to voluntarily engage with the department will be challenging. But at the same time the user needs statements indicate that users wish to obtain relevant information "so that I don’t get into debt or miss out money I’m entitled to".

The user needs statements which the service team had developed were supported by evidence from user research.

The user research which has been conducted seemed to be reasonably substantial  in terms of the number of users that had been seen - for example 10 rounds of usability testing in Discovery and Alpha. However, while many of these interviews included an element of semi-structured discussion,  there was a lack of any contextual or ethnographic research, which means there may be gaps or inappropriate emphases in the user needs statements. There were also considerable gaps in the demographic coverage of the research - there did not seem to be any systematic breakdown of the audience, and key audience dimensions (e.g. age, English as second language, etc) had not been researched.

The team were able to illustrate how the prototype had evolved in response to usability testing findings - for example a salary figure had been added in response to user feedback. But the prototype which had been developed in the Alpha contained minimal functionality - there are  considerably more features lined up for inclusion in forthcoming work and the Personal Tax Account will link through to other HMRC ‘products’ where users can actually take actions, for example paying tax or applying for a refund.

The Team

The team is generally robust but the user-research plan will need additional resource.

Security, privacy, tools and standards

Initial thinking around technologies, security and privacy has begun and will follow HMRC’s established patterns. However, the prototype shown did not demonstrate the complete end-to-end service.

Improving the service

The team understood and have implemented an effective approach to iterating the service.


The prototype shown appeared to follow the correct design patterns and interactions.

Assisted digital and channel shift

Although the team had identified a potentially very high number of assisted digital users, they had done insufficient research with users with no digital skills and access to be able to demonstrate an understanding of user needs for assisted digital support.

Due to the estimated number of assisted digital users, it’s important that this work is done promptly during development of the service. This will be needed to ensure that funding is available for appropriate support that meets the standard. The plan for beta sounds reasonable but there is a lot of work to do and the team needs to be further ahead with their understanding of assisted digital user needs for this service.

Analysis and benchmarking

It’s anticipated that the service will use HMRC’s Google Analytics licence and conversations have begun with the GDS Performance Platform team.

Testing with minister

Although this is an Alpha, the current Minister is aware of the service.


User needs and research

The user research ambition (as expressed in the Beta research plan) is substantial.  It has to be: the audience for the Personal Tax Account is wide ranging and complex. The user research conducted so far has unavoidably been relatively narrow in coverage due to resource constraints - just one researcher (although the amount of research achieved despite this is commendable). Given the gaps in coverage, and given the importance to HMRC’s long term strategy of the success of Personal Tax Account with customers, it is important that research resources commensurate with the scale of the challenge are provided. The assessment panel would suggest that at least one other full time researcher is provided to the project.

The end-to-end user journeys need to be tested with users as part of this work - from the Personal Tax Account front door right through to the end-point of paying tax, applying for a refund etc. The testing should include navigational issues like getting back to the Personal Tax Account at the end of the journey and, if appropriate, moving between different ‘products’ without the need to go via the ‘home page’.

Given the importance of the Personal Tax Account - it fits with user needs in terms of knowing liabilities and entitlements, feeling in control, having information in one place, receiving personalised messages;  and it will become the focus or start point for all online personal tax interactions with HMRC - it would seem that these extended transactions must be subservient to the navigational and interaction expectations created for users by the Personal Tax Account. At beta assessment the panel will wish to understand the research evidence for how effectively these transactions have been integrated into the tax account interaction, in terms of consistency, simplicity and seamless integration.

It was clear from the discussion with the service team that the Personal Tax Account is high profile for the business and a lot of business objectives are riding on it. In such circumstances, there may be a danger that the product becomes bloated and unwieldy. It is strongly recommended that the content and configuration of the product continues to be driven primarily by user needs as evidenced through research. This will maximise the chances of product success.

End to end service

As the service moves into Beta development, an iteration of the potential end-to-end service must be made available for research at the earliest opportunity.

The service team didn't present much evidence to show that users were succeeding in using the service first-time, unaided. This was mostly due to the lack of definition around what ‘successfully using the service’ would actually mean for a user (and how to measure it). As the service moves through beta, having a clear understanding of what constitutes a successful interaction will become increasingly important for understanding whether the service is working or not. The service team needs to be able to define what a successful user interaction is for the Personal Tax Account service, especially given the complexities with having multiple services that sit within it.

Technical And The Team

The extent of this service was a little unclear. The Personal Tax Account will be an account to access many other HMRC services. The responsibility for the design patterns used across these services and how they integrate may impact on the resources that this team needs. There is a need for the team to demonstrate how the interactions between the Personal Tax Account and the services that sit within it will be managed.

Assisted digital

The assisted digital component(s) of the service needs substantial work. The assumption that the ‘as is’ processes and services will be sufficient needs to be challenged. The assessment team appreciates that HMRC is embarking on a significant transformation but the volume of potential assisted digital users - approaching 10 million - necessitates specific provisions and funding. Given that assisted digital is almost one third of the total user-base, significant channel shift will not be achieved without the necessary support.

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 No
11 No 12 Yes
13 Yes 14 Yes
15 Yes 16 Yes
17 No 18 Yes
19 Yes 20 Yes
21 Yes 22 Yes
23 Yes 24 Yes
25 Yes 26 Yes