HMRC Is Shite

HMRC Is Shite
Dedicated to the taxpayers of Britain, and the employees of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), who have to endure the monumental shambles that is HMRC.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Big Brother Blocks Site

Big Brother
I understand, from a comment made on an earlier post, that HMRC have now blocked access to this site in their offices; ie they have forbidden their staff to access a site that is freely available to everyone else.

It does appear that HMRC don't like criticism, don't like this site and most certainly do not like their staff reading items that may be deemed to be "off message".

Interestingly, despite the censorship, this site's position on Google (type "HMRC" into the Google search box) has moved up from 6th to 4th place out of 1,290,000 entries.

Who knows, maybe it will one day overtake HMRC's own site on Google?

There may be ways for HMRC staff to get around the block, eg use a proxy such as Anonymouse, Megaproxy (, ID Zap ( and The Cloak (

Maybe someone with more IT expertise than myself could come up with better suggestions as to how the firewall can be breached, without staff getting a bollocking or losing their jobs?

My advice to the management of HMRC is that you cannot treat professional adults like children who cannot be trusted, this policy will backfire.

My advice to the staff of HMRC is to follow Peter Finch's call to arms, stick your heads outside of your windows and shout:

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Tax does have to be taxing.

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  1. There seems to be a malaise throughout the public sector, not just HMRC, with worker satisfaction at a new low. My wife recently retired from teaching and was glad to get out although she loved the job once, there was just so much pointless paperwork and box ticking. I have heard similar comments from policemen and nurses.

    What you describe at HMRC seems to be another symptom of the inability of the damn government to treat professionals as adults and trust them to get on with their jobs without constantly interfering and tinkering.

  2. Congratulations - on both the success of your search engine placement and the ban on the HMRC firewall.

    I wouldn't condone to HMRC employees to change their own internet proxy settings or using their phones as wireless gateways to access banned content... Circumenting the firewall in that way would be terrible for data security and we all know HMRC's score on that.

    I recommend taking a look here:

    Welcome to North Korea; HMRC employees!

  3. I guess they will have to do what I do and view the site from home instead (if they have a pc of course)

    Contrary to popular belief not all HMRC employees have access to the internet from their desktop pc anyway. Some office apparently have a 'stand alone' pc that can be used but the majority of staff, certainly those in the 'income tax' side of things, don't have internet access or external email, nor are there any plans for this to change.

    Much as i think this site does a great job, and its some comfort to see that its not just me and my immediate colleagues that despair at the state of the department, im afraid I personally wouldn't try alternative ways to view this or any other banned site at work (if I was one of the those who actually had internet access of course!) Its just not worth facing the Conduct & Discipline action that would follow if Big Bro caught you

  4. It's dreadful! They won't let me watch net pornography at work, either!

  5. As I said before, nothing hurts HMRC more than the truth.

    Our employer can run, but it can't hide....

  6. In the HMRC office that my good friend Mr Anonymous used to work in there was just one stand-alone PC that was Internet-enabled. Needless to say, there was a spreadsheet to be filled in by all members of staff using the machine so that the paranoia-driven and up-themselves "management" could monitor usage. Management were none too pleased when they spot-checked the spreadsheet one day only to find that Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne were listed as regular users!!!

  7. Thought you might like to know that even such an innocuous website as the National Lottery has been blocked on HMRC computers - presumably to safeguard the nation’s tax officers from such an evil pernicious influence.

  8. To Anonymous Commentators,

    The article writer wasn't writing to say that this site is especially banned, I'm sure there really are filters on pornography, hate speech sites also.

    Many employers block access to sites such as the BBC News, YouTube, and Webmail in order to (primarily) keep staff focussed on their day job and not to procrastinate.

    What the original article writer was hitting at should be quite obvious: This behaviour by the management @ HMRC is very much like treating the staff as children, since it seems that HMRC management take the dim view that HMRC staff, given the option to procrastinate online would take it.

    It's more about paranoia than pornography.



  9. Dear Mr Anonymous

    Yes, I fully agree with you. If I were a manager I would not particularly like to see my staff wasting works time looking at websites – even harmless ones like BBC News or the National Lottery – outside of their lunch hour. However, like you, I would prefer to treat them as adults and trust them until such as a time that they lose that trust. Relying on paranoia and blocking such sites only further alienates the majority of staff who are happy to “play by the rules”.


    Mr Anonymous (no relation)

  10. Look at it this way.

    As an HMRC employee, personal web use at work is a privilege, not a right. Yes, I know that seems harsh, mean, and condescending (and in some ways it is), but think about the reason behind it. Because HMRC is a government department, at the slightest hint of any impropriety, the tabloids go nuts and start braying for blood like it's the greatest threat to the nation since the Cambridge Five! The number of perks and jollies they get in the private sector would make no difference to the political fall-out. Yes, it’s unfair, but you’ll have to console yourself with the job security and pension (and fight like hell as a union to keep them!). Especially at the moment.

    Having said that, they’ve decided to allow people with net access to use it for private purposes, within reason and subject to certain rules. These rules bring us back to the point above about the tabloids – they’d love to find out about HMRC employees being allowed to surf porn, Ladbrokes, etc using public time/hardware. I take the point made above about trust, and I’m sure most managers trust the staff who directly report to them as much as Mr Anonymous would. It would be nice if HMRC could trust all of its staff completely. But doing so COMPLETELY would mean not monitoring or restricting ANY of the things that 85,000 people, in an organisation with half a trillion pounds going through it a year, do with their computers. That would really give Ken something to blog about!

    OK, so that’s clearly an outrageous situation. Assuming that we can all accept that it would be unwise to trust everyone completely with the way they use their computers, what would be reasonable? Keep an eye out, have the computer systems automatically flag up high-risk/suspicious behaviour, and investigate, and investigate cases that require more attention? Sounds about right to me. In fact, it’s probably more or less what they do (I don’t know the true details, I’m afraid – after all, would you publish all the details of your security system, or would you keep some under wraps so that you don’t give away information that would help people subvert those very systems?).

    So you set up a system like the one described above, but allow everyone to access any website they like. However, because of what you know the tabloids would say about staff accessing any sites that could be construed as dubious (yes, even during their lunchtime!), you’ve draw up some rules about what they can and can’t use it for. Inevitably, out of 85,000 people, some will try it on. How do you deal with this? Issue warnings? OK, but that won’t stop everyone. Eventually, like it or not, you find yourself having to take conduct and discipline action against some employees, potentially ending up at an employment tribunal. It’s (very) expensive, it’s time-consuming, it further sours some already ropey industrial relationships, and it creates bad publicity.

    Alternatively, somebody in IT spends a week or so blocking websites, and a bit of time every now and again maintaining the list. Cheap, quick, and avoids having to subject staff (who might be tempted to stray onto dodgy sites – there will always be some who will!) to conduct and disciplinary procedures that nobody wants.

    Next, you notice that a load of staff are accessing a website, with an expletive in the name, which strongly criticises not only the management of HMRC but also the government. Some of these staff members are leaving anonymous comments. You’re concerned that, sooner or later, the press might get hold of civil servants using government IT equipment to criticise the government in a public forum (which breaks so many rules it’s untrue!*). You’re faced with the same dilemma: risk having to investigate, explain to the government what’s happened and/or deal with a(nother) PR nightmare, or just block the site before things start to get messy. Given that choice, I find it pretty easy to understand why they’ve done it.

    * - (Not a veiled threat, before you say anything!)

  11. Out of interest, Ken, do you associate yourself with Howard Beale? :-)

  12. /cough/ google cached pages /cough/