Understanding HMRC customer appetite for dealing with their taxes online

This study presents the findings of a random probability survey with HMRC customers on their preferred channels for engaging with HMRC.
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  • Authors:
    Bernard Steen
    Olivia Lucas
    Eliska Holland
    Jerome Swan
  • Publishing date:
    28 September 2023

About the study

HMRC's vision is to be a trusted and modern tax administration. Achieving this vision involves, in part, giving customers the digital experience they expect from a modern tax authority. HMRC wanted to understand how best to support most customers to self-serve through an attractive digital channel offer. HMRC also wanted to understand the support needs of customers who may need extra help, are digitally excluded or otherwise vulnerable. The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) were therefore commissioned to address this evidence gap, by providing an up-to-date and robust assessment of customers' needs and preferences for engaging with HMRC. The findings from this research will support HMRC's planning and delivery of channel activity over the next 2 to 3 years, whilst also improving HMRC's understanding of the proportion and nature of Assisted Digital and Digitally Excluded taxpayers to inform its approach to digital inclusion. 


A key objective for this research was to understand the extent to which channel preference is primarily a result of individuals' levels of digital capability, or whether there are also HMRC-specific factors involved. The research clearly confirms that both sets of factors are important. Whilst channel preference is strongly related to levels of digital capability, some HMRC tasks can be complex, and customers may struggle to understand terminology. Added to this, the (perceived) consequences of mistakes can be severe. This means that customers who are otherwise confident and highly digitally capable chose offline channels, out of a need for reassurance and a fear of being punished for mistakes. Many customers felt they would be more likely to engage with HMRC online if services were easier to use and understand, and if HMRC could provide prompt and personalised reassurances online. 


The research involved a random probability survey using the NatCen Panel. Fieldwork took place in November 2022 with the questionnaire mainly completed online and supplemented by telephone interviewing to reach less digitally capable customers. Just over 4000 panellists were engaged to achieve a final sample of 3,644. 13% of respondents were screened out as non-HMRC customers.