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Tax Credits Change of Circumstances - Beta Re-assessment

Tax Credits Change of Circumstances allows users to view and update the information used to calculate their tax credits.

Department / Agency:
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)

Original Assessment:
Beta - Not Passed - 24 March 2015

Date of Re-assessment:
11 May 2015

Assessment stage:

Result of Re-assessment:
Not pass

Lead Assessor:
A. Lister

Service Manager:
J. Robertshaw

Digital Leader:
M. Dearnley

Re-assessment Report

The Tax Credit Change of Circumstances service is seeking permission to launch on a domain as a Beta service.

The service did not meet points 1, 9, 17 and 20 of the Service Standard at the first beta assessment on 24 March 2015. This report covers the re-assessment of those points.

Outcome of re-assessment

After consideration we have concluded the Tax Credit Change of Circumstances service should not be given approval to launch on the domain as a Beta service.


The service still appears to be driven by timescales, back end processes and current paper forms rather than attempting to match how users think about Tax Credits and the information they need to provide. Beta releases are primarily a learning process that guides the design of the complete service. Although the team has made good progress in passing two additional points of the service standard, this release remains a tactical solution that will be replaced by something quite different.

The team had made some progress on the basic interactions within the service. However, learnings that should be covered during Alpha are still being made. This is a high volume service that should to be more complete at this stage of development.

Although user needs and research were explained in detail, the process and timescale for moving from insight to story to production remained unclear. This was evidenced by lack of progress with the recommendations from the initial Beta assessment.

User Needs

The team have adjusted the focus of ongoing user research to deepen their understanding of user needs, by specifically recruiting users who have had a change in circumstances, using mocked up paper packs. This has allowed users to interact with the service using their real details and following up by phone with users of the live service who have incorrectly completed their / their partner’s details.

The team is also continuing to make use of other sources of insight, such as analysis of call centre data. This is all commended, as is the commitment to ongoing user research as part of each sprint cycle.

However, there continues to be a clear disparity between the way users think about their tax credits and changes they need to report and the service that has been built.

At Beta, the expectation is that user research should be focussed primarily on refining interaction-level detail and it is concerning that the user research is continuing to uncover conceptual issues at this stage. Carrying out research on the live service to test changes of a conceptual nature is challenging due to the complexity of the service and number of potential scenarios.

The parallel stream of research on the prototype seems to offer more potential for a robust user experience that has been developed around user needs.


The team has made improvements to the design since the last assessment, removing free text entry and improving currency entry. However, several areas still need improvement, and the overall service gives the impression of falling short of a minimum viable product. Given the high volumes of users that the team intend to put through the beta, it is especially important that consideration is given to supporting users in succeeding first time, unaided.

Several aspects of the service need substantial redevelopment:

  • The team is still developing important features such as a summary screen and save and return. This gives the impression of a service that is not yet ready.
  • Lack of progressive disclosure, there are many occurrences of ‘if you answered x, tell us y’.
  • One question asks the user to fill out another form if their child is over 16. Users shouldn’t need to remember this as the service already knows their age. If the user does remember to fill out the form, they are then asked unnecessarily for nearly identical identity information about the child.
  • The likely time to complete the transaction hasn’t been considered when specifying timeouts. Users could take half an hour to find documents, but timeout is just 15 minutes. When users return to the service after a timeout, they have no indication of what has or hasn’t been saved.
  • Content still awkward in places, particularly field validation.
  • Exit points from completed changes are not obvious and navigation between multiple changes is awkward.
  • Branding should be reviewed, considering GOV.UK guidance on use of logos and colour schemes.


The high-level conceptual approach to the service needs to be fully formed at the earliest opportunity. This means gaining a comprehensive understanding of how users think about Tax Credits and the information they have to provide.

All of the recommendations made in the previous Beta assessment need to be implemented throughout any future iteration the entire service.

Display of logos and general branding needs to be brought in line with guidance on the use of logos.

Digital by Default Service Standard criteria

Criteria Met? Criteria Met?
1 No 9 No
17 Yes 20 Yes