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Tax Credit Renewals – Service Assessment

This service will allow tax credit customers to renew their tax credit claim online.

Department / Agency:

Date of Assessment:

Date of Reassessment:

Moving to:
Public Beta

Result of Assessment:
Not passed

Result of Reassessment:

Lead Assessor:
S. Edwards

Service Manager:
B. Price

Digital Leader:
M. Dearnley

Reassessment report

The Tax Credits Renewals Service is seeking permission to continue development as it moves to Public Beta.

Outcome of service assessment

After consideration we have concluded that Tax Credits Renewals Service has shown sufficient progress and evidence of meeting the pre-April 2014 criteria. The serviceshould proceed to Public Beta subject to the conditions detailed below.


All 26 points of the service standard were considered during the assessment. However, before April 2014 the primary considerations are:

  • does the service meet user needs?
  • can it be rapidly improved?
  • is it safe, i.e. are appropriate security and privacy protections in place?

The Tax Credits Renewals team have shown that:

  • The service meets the minimum user needs for a public beta and is rapidly improving the user experience towards the long term goal of a Digital by Default service for Tax Credits Renewals.
  • They have conducted an extraordinary amount of formal and informal user research since the previous service assessment and have detailed plans for continuing user research during the public beta phase.
  • The service has been improved, and has the potential to continue to be improved on a very frequent basis based on user research.
  • The service has improved following input from an experienced content designer who was collocated with the service team. This has improved the language in the service such that it is simpler, clearer and concise. The service has improved almost beyond recognition from what the assessment team reviewed only two weeks before.

Conditions to be met during Beta stage

GDS are seeking written confirmation by the 31 May 2014 that the following actions have been taken by that date:

  1. That the service implements a feedback mechanism from other channels, such as contact centres, and that this is informing the continuous service development.
  2. User research has continued to inform the service development, broadly in accordance with the plan outlined to the assessors.
  3. That progress has been made on recruiting the remainder of the service team so as to ultimately reduce their reliance on staff not collocated with the service team.
  4. That the service team have put in place a disaster recovery and business contingency plan and have tested both plans.
  5. That the service team have engaged with the Performance Platform in GDS to build a dashboard for the service.

Next Steps

The assessment has shown that Tax Credits Renewals service meets the pre-April 2014 criteria of the Digital by Default Service Standard and should proceed to Public Beta.


In summary we are very pleased to report that this service can proceed to Public Beta.

The team are clearly aware of the importance of the work they have ahead of them and the planning they have done over the last two weeks should ensure that the service continues to improve.

Assessment report

The Tax Credits Renewals service is seeking permission to launch as a Public Beta.

Outcome of service assessment

We have concluded that the Tax Credits Renewals service should not be given approval to launch on the domain as a Public Beta service.

Summary of reasons

The current service does not meet the pre April 2014 criteria for passing a digital by default service assessment. The service does not pass on the following grounds:

1. There are issues with service usability that need to be addressed before it goes into public beta (and reviewed in a follow-up service standard assessment before permission to go live will be granted).

2. Any service that is expected to have a high profile and/or high volume of transactions needs to be user tested before it goes live; there has not yet been sufficient testing with real users, and consequently it has some usability problems.

HMRC have an exciting and ambitious programme of reform for transforming their services and creating new digital services. GDS understand that the Tax Credits Renewals service team was brought together in January, with work commencing in February, and have therefore had only 8 weeks to organise their team and deliver a major new online digital service for this service assessment. This is an ambitious timescale and the team have evidently worked extremely hard in the most difficult of circumstances to deliver the service to the current state.

Nevertheless, given the current usability issues and lack of user testing, GDS do not believe this service is ready to move into public beta. GDS found that the service team have built a set of web-based forms that aims to replicate the paper form for tax credits renewal, without taking the opportunity to use the digital service to improve the experience of tax credits renewal for users. Until the team makes changes to the digital renewals system, it may make more sense for a user to fill in the paper form than to complete the digital service. Although the scope of the tax credits renewal service is narrow, there is still an opportunity to make the service easier to use than the paper form or the phone service as detailed below.

Detailed reasons

User Needs

  • The service does not have a sufficiently clearly defined user need and not enough time was spent analysing the user needs before the project was implemented.
  • The service team have not taken the opportunity to fully understand their users or their needs. We understand that 60 tax credit recipients were surveyed and a report was produced which appears to have been used to scope out service development based on departmental needs.
  • As a result, the service team had a narrow scope of work that focused on digitising part of an existing paper form and building the digital service to fit around existing HMRC business processes.

User Research and User Feedback

  • The service team were not present during the small number of formal user research sessions that have taken place. This means the service team, and in particular the Service Manager, missed a valuable opportunity to gain insight into how users were interacting with the service.  A learning point is that the quality of this service will be directly related to the number of hours each and every team member is exposed directly to real users interacting with the team's designs.
  • More user research needs to be carried out. GDS understand that only 19 individuals have been involved in testing the service and that some of these users were stakeholders rather than end users. Although it would have been preferable to have an experienced user researcher in the team, the service could conduct informal user research which should pick up some of the usability issues with the service.
  • User research has been outsourced to 3rd party organisations and then largely consumed by report. This has not allowed the service team enough chance to gauge how users are interacting with the service. There wasn’t enough evidence of the user research being used as real insight into how users would interact with the service.
  • GDS were concerned that there was no clear plan to conduct further research. GDS were told that the team had conducted some initial research involving making contact with public libraries in and around Newcastle, but this had not yet led to any firm plans for user research to take place. GDS recommends that the key area for improvement is the need for more stringent user research, with as many real users as possible, before the service is re-assessed.
  • A further area for improvement is the support service for users. The current proposal is to use a  telephone based helpdesk (rather than the digital support service established for the exemplar services). The proposal needs to include feedback mechanisms so that the service can continue to iterate based on feedback from end users.

Usability and Content

  • The service is built using the GOV.UK visual design and typography, but the interaction design needs more work to have the feel or tone of a service built for hosting on GOV.UK.
  • Written content needs to be reviewed as it is not consistent with the GOV.UK style guide. The assessment team were left with concerns following the first review of content. The content included highly technical information, that produced a more business led content design than was appropriate. GDS felt that it would make the content more difficult for a user to understand than if it had met the GOV.UK style guide. A learning point is the need for highly capable content writers to ensure to ensure that content going into an alpha service does not need to be rewritten. There have been some steps in the right direction. During the service assessment we were shown revised content that had been produced following a content review. There is however, still a lot of work to do before the end to end service is easy to understand and use. GDS recommend focusing on this as a high priority.
  • GDS felt that more use should be made of interaction design of the service. For instance, typing in a 15 digit number could have been broken into a number of smaller text blocks, with a few alternatives tested to see what was best for the user. Another example: at various points the user is asked to perform calculations on paper working sheets and then type in the sum of several numbers into the screen. It would not be reasonable to expect the user to write down numbers on paper working sheets and then use a calculator to obtain the sum, when a small modification to the service would replace a complex calculation step which could generate  errors.. We recommend focusing on this as a high priority.
  • The service is provided across multiple channels and departments within HMRC. However, the Service Manager exists within only one channel - the digital channel - and so is not empowered by HMRC to effectively change the whole service.

The service team and service support:

  • The service team is not yet complete, recruitment to complete the team is still in very early stages. There are gaps within the team for a Product Analyst, Interaction Designer, Content Designer, User Researchers, and Web Operations Engineers. Currently, the team are reliant on staff in different locations (Preston, Belfast, Dorset House in London and Newcastle), making collaborative working harder.
  • The service team are expecting that the HMRC Tax Platform team in London will provide operational support. During the assessment it became apparent that there is a lack of clarity about what support is available. It is really important that the service team are clear about exactly how they expect the service to be operated and test those assumptions with their London colleagues before the service goes into public beta. In particular this should include (1) how out of hours support will work; (2) the degree to which they expect their London colleagues to understand how the system is built; and (3) how the team expects to deploy changes to the live service. GDS recommend focusing on this as a high priority.

Agile ways of working and frequent iteration:

  • The service team showed evidence of their intention to work in an agile way and we would recommend that they are supported with an agile coach who will be able to give immediate help with process issues.
  • The Service Manager should ensure that the legal team have access to the service’s “preview environment” and can review and approve the text in the actual service as it is iterated. Experience shows that this will reduce the rate of errors and increase the rate of change.

Source code

  • The service team should ensure that the approach to source code is open by default, in line with broader government policy, and we expect to see the source code made available under a suitable open source license unless there is a compelling reason to keep it closed.

Product analytics

  • We were encouraged by evidence that the Service Manager will be analysing data from the service using Google Analytics reports in conjunction with HMRC colleagues in Preston. The Service Manager has planned to receive training in Google Analytics, although this will be an additional burden for the Service Manager at a very busy time. A Product Analyst could be appointed to provide support and expertise to the Service Manager.

Next Steps

The assessment has shown that the Tax Credits Renewals service is not yet on track to meet the Digital by Default Service Standard. Tax Credit Renewals should follow the recommendations made in this report and see the Government Service Design Manual for further guidance. In order for the service to proceed to Public Beta, GDS require a full reassessment.


The tax credits renewals service team have made considerable progress in a very short time under tight constraints. The challenge of building the service to meet the standard was incredibly difficult and it is a testament to their hard work that they have made so much progress in such short timescales. The challenges that remain are considerable, but in no way insurmountable, even in the limited timescales available. The HMRC team in Dorset House have access to interaction designers, content designers and software developers who we understand have already started to help to address some of the problems. GDS recommend that you continue working with them and focus on making this a service designed around the needs of the user, rather than attempting to replicate the existing paper form. Simultaneously, HMRC should consider how to ensure your team is properly supported to ensure you can continue to iterate this service throughout the summer and into the 2015 renewals period.