Toby’s last blog post gave an update on the Self Assessment statements which were the first digital alerts we’ve sent out to our customers. I want to say a little more about what we have been doing to develop our digital alerts further.
We’ve started by looking at 13 letters which make up around 85% of the Self-Assessment letters we send out to our customers. We are not putting these paper letters onto screens but are going further and replacing paper entirely with modern digital messages. The letters range from routine things like reminding customers to do something such as file a return, or pay, to penalty notices which are issued when we haven’t received a return or payment. Customer research has told us that they wanted these to be clearer and more helpful so we wanted to make them a lot simpler and ensure the customer knows exactly what they need to do and when.
So, how did we go about this? Well, our first step was to go back to basics and to fully understand the original purpose of the letters. In doing this, we realised that over the years we had started to include many additional messages which sometimes meant that the letters were becoming too complex. We had some interesting debates about some of the changes that needed to be made to make the digital messages helpful, but in the end we focused on including only what our customers really need to know, what they need to do, and by when. Stripping out all the other information means that the messages are now much clearer.
We also made sure that our messages continued to convey their legal purpose; in HMRC some of our letters are legislative, which basically means that we legally have to send them to inform the customer of their tax obligations. Working with our policy colleagues and solicitors we ensured that our new streamlined digital messages continued to meet their legal purpose as well as making it easier for the customer to understand what they need to do. Pleasingly with just a few changes we gained agreement that the messages were legally appropriate and retained their focus of only telling the customer what they need to know.
But, the really important point is what do our customers think? We are still researching with users as to how useful they are finding the messages and we’re getting a positive response which is great. In June we actually went live with one of our 13 digital messages and we’re starting to get good feedback; by the end of August we should have two more digital messages available to customers and hopefully they will continue to give us feedback so that we can make our alerts even better.