Digital exclusion to digital excluded - have the self-employed been overlooked?

08 September 2015

Andrew Hubbard

HMRC’s digital strategy? Most PAYE taxpayers have straightforward tax affairs and may be relatively unaffected. Companies already have filing requirements and other legal obligations and therefore may well already have sophisticated accounting systems which will blend seamlessly (pause here for a deep breath...) into HMRC digital systems. 

It will be the self-employed who are likely to see the greatest change, and who could obtain the greatest benefit from digitalisation - particularly if it is accompanied by significant simplification. But that of course assumes that the self-employed person is able to access those digital services. 

The latest HMRC research on digital exclusion paints a worrying picture, with 37 per cent of the population as a whole likely to need assistance to access government digital services online, and 15 per cent of the population being digital excluded, i.e. having no access to, or use of, the internet. However for the self-employed, the numbers are 42 per cent and 19 per cent respectively – i.e. the self-employed are less digitally capable than the population as a whole.

So the segment of the population for whom HMRC’s digital strategy may have the greatest benefit is also the segment which is the least capable of accessing those benefits. 

Surely this points to a fundamental problem which needs to be resolved? HMRC has consistently said that their systems will accommodate the digitally excluded, and I have no doubt that this is the intention, but details of what will actually happen are still pretty vague. Digital exclusion creates inequalities and frustrations, and the best systems in the world are no good if you can’t use them.

I’m an unashamed enthusiast for digital ways of working – but we must get the basics right first.

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