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Wednesday, 7 March 2012
Not The Bleeding Edge of Technology
In September 2011 I wrote the following about HMRC's Real Time Information (RTI) system:
"HMRC have fessed up privately to ministers that the deadline will be missed.
Universal Credit is now being assessed by the Major Projects Authority, a group of officials and commercial experts from the Treasury and Cabinet Office. Their key concern being that the “real time” information system, to be provided by HMRC, will not be ready by April 2013."
RTI will involve employers and pension providers telling HMRC about tax, national insurance contributions and other deductions at the time, or before, payments are made, instead of waiting until the end of the tax year. The move is intended to help DWP provide claimants with universal credit without demanding information on their incomes, and with more confidence that it is getting the payments right.
Some six months on, and I see that Mark Holden (the RTI Programme Director) is happily telling the Guardian that it is on schedule for full "delivery by October 2013".
In fact several hundred thousand employers will take part in a pilot this April.
Holden is quoted:
"All the IT is tracking, we're in final phases of testing, and it's looking very good."
Whilst he is confident that the technology is solid, seemingly implementation may cause a few problems:
"Probably it's more around the implementation.
Although this is very big IT, it's not bleeding edge technology.
The biggest change is around any changes the employers have to make, so the real thing for us is making sure the communications are clear, making sure the guidance we are publishing is in plain English and the employers understand it first time around.
That's why we're really pleased to be able to run a pilot, which is not a luxury we've had many times before."
A will allow myself a small chuckle wrt his optimism about HMRC communicating in "plain English".
Now here's the "rub", most of the programme is built on platforms already used by HMRC.
As loyal readers are already aware, Caseflow et al are not exactly "flavour" of the month with staff (or the NAO) wrt functionality, user friendliness etc.
Is it not therefore a tad "dangerous" to build RTI on top of a shaky set of poorly functioning systems?
Holden, to his credit, takes full ownership of the project:
"Although we're really clear in governance terms that [RTI is] an HMRC programme.."
I note that governments (of all political hues) have not exactly covered themselves in glory when it comes to IT implementations (aside from HMRC debacles of the past), I would refer you to the disgrace of the Computer Sciences Corporation failed and scrapped £1.9BN contract for the national NHS system.
So folks, is it really on target and on budget?
Will it really live up to the hype?
Tax does have to be taxing.
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