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Inland Revenue joins Internet hall of shame

Five million tax returns added to pathetic IT effort

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Luddites have been proved right yet again. Every week it seems there is another major organisation that seems incapable of dealing with computer technology. Even those people that are synonymous with studied efficiency are not immune.

And so the Inland Revenue had added to its already poor record by losing over five million tax records. An internal memo pointing out that 15.5 per cent of the organisation's submitted returns had got lost was leaked to the press and the country collectively held their heads in their hands.

The planet-sized cock-up stems from the apparent failure of two computer systems - one run by EDS and another run by Andersen Consulting - to talk to one another. You'd have thought they'd have checked. But no. While large sections of the Inland Revenue can scythe through millions of tiny entries and come up with a figure accurate to one pence, the IT department is more a fan of the sticky-back plastic and string approach.

It is simply staggering that FIVE MILLION records can be misplaced. And now the Inland Revenue has requested that the files be closed - effectively writing off any tax rebates/demands.

This story is certain to be very closely followed and prove an enormous embarrassment to an establishment that espouses the grand advantages to the Internet but then fails totally to deliver on what they're selling. We thought we'd save everyone some time and trouble and cover another utter failure of the Inland Revenue - self-assessment.

The Revenue put a lot of (marketing) effort into selling the self-assessment idea. By taking tax calculation out of its hands and moving to a more US system, it hoped to increase flexibility and reduce hassle. A logical step up was to feed it through the Internet. And so the online Revenue was born, complete with a bonus for those that filed online.

We have been following the creation of an online Revenue very closely - mostly because we intended to use it. Inputting your details online, hitting send and then not worrying any more about it appealed greatly. But having gone through an elaborate registering process only to be informed that the filing software was not yet available, we were a little disappointed.

To then go back every week for four months - each time being faced with a different, extended launch date - got a little tiresome. And then, suddenly, faced with the tax record loss fiasco, we're informed that not one person has taken advantage of the electronic filing process. Apparently it was available from 3 July. News to us.

Seeing as the Revenue knows more about us than our own mother, it seems a bit disingenuous not to tell us the service was finally ready. But then when the Revenue has spent its entire life intimidating and hassling people, it must be difficult to have to provide an accountable, visible service. Who said the Internet wasn't a great leveller of power? ®

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