In control of self-assessment

Normally, I have violent fantasies about the things I would like to say when on the telephone with the Inland Revenue. Yesterday I didn’t say a word when interacting with them as I filed my self-assessment online.

It took me six months to actually register for the service because the details in the database (small facts really – name, address, national insurance number) didn’t match the ones under which I normally pay tax. Tech support was interesting: “It’s not our department” and my favourite: “Can you try after 6pm? It might work better then.”

But oh happy ending. When I logged in to see my correct details I felt in control for the first time since I began trying to register and file on-line. Now, I could edit my information if it was inaccurate without anymore ‘computer says no *cough*’.

I admired the clean page layout of white background, green text and pale green highlighting in the current box I was typing in. I did wonder when red feedback messages appeared at the top of the form saying things like: “Please enter your date of birth correctly!!!!!!!!” Would the red letters be noticed by someone with colour blindness? Are exclamation marks enough?

The process had plenty of comforting feedback – ‘back’, ‘next’, ‘delete form’, and a process indicator bar to tell me what percentage of the form I had completed.

What I enjoyed most was that I didn’t have to read every question and the volumes of notes I am sent each year. The site told me which questions to answer. Each question had accompanying context sensitive help indicated by a question mark icon (it opened in another window which was good for me but what about someone using a screen reader? Would they get lost?).

At the end of the process the site generated a pdf which looked just like the paper version I had been sent except it was complete with my answers and the estimate of the tax I should pay.

This government has been criticised, quite rightly so, for the amount of money it throws, often unsuccessfully, at technology. After spending approximately ten minutes filing my self-assessment online I was happy that some of my tax went towards paying for this site.

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