Taxation logo taxation mission text

Since 1927 the leading authority on tax law, practice and administration

The answer is 42

29 September 2005 / Richard Curtis
Issue: 4027 / Categories: Comment & Analysis
RICHARD CURTIS visits the webpage at the end of the universe.

THOSE FANS OF The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will recall that the earth was destroyed because no one had taken the trouble to visit the inter-galactic planning department located on the planet Alpha Centauri, which was merely 50 light years away. Well if you can't take an interest in local affairs …
One of the characters in the book is Arthur Dent and readers will of course know that this planetary destruction reflected the fate of his house, which he had just learned was about to be demolished to make way for a new motorway. Arthur had had some difficulty in obtaining this information from the basement of his council offices and it appears that obtaining information from HMRC's website is also starting to become rather 'hitchhikerish'. One sticks one's thumb out, but whether a passing news release happens to stop as it travels by in the ether seems to be a matter of chance.

The hitchhike begins

As a 'for instance', I was intrigued when a colleague showed me the recent HMRC news release on the child trust fund vouchers. This was dated Friday, 26 August 2005. After the news release had been removed from my grasp, I thought 'no matter, I will get my own copy from the website'. Logging on to I came first to the homepage. In fact, the first item shown under the central heading, 'We would like you to know' was 'Child Trust Fund'. Following this link — via a 'Tell me about … Child Trust Fund' page and the 'Child Trust Fund — information for parents' link — led me to the Child Trust Fund website ( However, there was no sign of the press release there, or under the Child Trust Fund section of HMRC's website to which the 'Tell me about …' page also links. The HMRC pages contain consultations, legislation, lists of providers and other information.

Return to go

I suppose that I was not really expecting to find the news release on the Child Trust Fund pages, although the fact that it was listed first, presumably to reflect its current importance, did make me wonder. I returned to the HMRC website homepage; as a recent news release, presumably it could be found under the 'What's new' link which is also below the 'We would like you to know' heading.
Clicking on 'What's new' takes one, naturally, to the 'What's new' page which one expects to show news releases for the past couple of weeks. But there was no sign of anything about child trust fund vouchers there either.
One then notices that, under the heading 'Taxes and Tax Credits formerly dealt with by the Inland Revenue' towards the top of the 'What's new' page, there is another 'What's new' link, which has the subheading 'including Inland Revenue press releases prior to 18 April 2005'.
Following that link led me to releases for the current month. A line at the top of the webpage states 'This page shows what has been recently added to the site and our news releases'. There are links to the previous five months' releases at the foot of that page. We know that the news release was in August, so click on the August link. In fact, we even know that the release was dated 26 August, so we scroll down to that date and find links to releases on:

  • an updated leaflet CA93 — Shortfall in your NICs; National Insurance contributions. To pay or not to pay?;
  • the Stamp Taxes Online service; and
  • the third Pensions Tax Simplification newsletter.

Still no sign of the Child Trust Fund vouchers news release then.

A false friend

We then notice that the words 'news releases' in the line 'This page shows what has been recently added to the site and our news releases' mentioned above is underlined and is a link to another page 'News Releases', which has links to the UK Government News Network (GNN) website and 'Inland Revenue Releases', 'Inland Revenue Prosecutions Releases' and 'Inland Revenue Media Relations'.
Inland Revenue Releases seems like the most likely link, even though we see that it has not been updated to 'HMRC'. Following that link leads one to a GNN or 'Government News Network' page which proudly states: 'Latest news provided by the Government News Network'. The fact that the first mentioned news item is 'Agreement identifies UK pension arrangements for tax treaty benefits' and is dated 13 April 2005 does not exactly fill one with confidence. Of course one then realises that presumably this is a 'dead end', which only shows the pre-HMRC news releases.
Back at the What's New page one might note that, near the top, there is a 'bullet pointed line' stating HMRC Press Releases. If this — or any of the other — links on this page have been used before, they appear to change from their original blue colour to what appears to be a black that is very similar to the rest of the text. Clicking here leads one to a list of 'News Releases' (apparently 'news release' is the preferred definition now rather than press release) and one can find Dr Tanya's tips for pre-schoolers; that is to say, nine press releases showing Dr Tanya's tips for pre-schoolers on Wales, the South, the South-West, the East Midlands, the West Midlands, Northern Ireland, and the North-West. One wonders whether there might be different advice for these regions or whether they are written in a local dialect, but closer inspection of the text seems to indicate that the only differences are the regional names.
However, there is no sign of the national press release. This can be found elsewhere.
Beneath the 'News Release' headline on its page is the line 'Last 3 months' news stories. For older stories, see archive'. But when I looked at the site on Friday, 16 September, the page only showed releases dated the seventh, eighth and ninth September. Clicking the 'archive' link in the above line simply led me to another page showing the same stories.
The next link on that page is 'Business Briefs' which leads one to, what were, the Customs Business Briefs.
The second link is to the UK Government News Network (GNN) website.

Go to the Government

Clicking the above link takes one to the main Government News network site, which has the national and regional news releases for all government departments. One must then 'Select a department' (i.e. HMRC), select 'view press releases' and click 'go' to bring up a list of HMRC press releases. Scrolling down one finds 'First steps towards a bright future made easier for pre-schoolers' on 26 August 2005. For those who are into the current 'Su Doku' craze, the thrill of finding the press release is similar to satisfactorily completing the grid.

Down in the basement

I accept that not all of HMRC's news releases will be of interest to all HMRC customers, but I am not too sure why the definitive list of news releases is not on the HMRC site to enable customers to at least decide whether the information is relevant or not. Nor am I sure why the list seems to be selective, short, cluttered, out of date and without a proper archive. As one example, when I reviewed the Government site one day, the latest item on the GNN HMRC news release list was of a Business Advice Open Day in Newark. However, the only way that I could find a link to this on HMRC's site was by putting Business Open Day into the search facility. This then took me to a page, 'Business Advice Open Days'. A little like Arthur Dent, I felt that I had now found my way into a basement in HMRC's website. Unless I were to stumble upon this by accident, I would only find the information if I knew it was there in the first place — rather a 'Catch-22' situation to continue the literary analogy. The 'stairs' to this website basement — in the form of a link from any other commonly viewed pages — seem to be missing, but the information is obviously there if one can be bothered to look. Perhaps there are other secret cellars with interesting bits of information in them that remain unknown except to those who also happen to fall into them by accident.
I just cannot escape this feeling that someone in HMRC is a big fan of Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, so with acknowledgements to 'the book', I will leave you with the following extract.
'But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.'
'Oh yes, well, as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything.'
'But the plans were on display …'
'On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.'
'That's the display department.'
'With a flashlight.'
'Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.'
'So had the stairs.'
'But look, you found the notice, didn't you?'
'Yes,' said Arthur, 'yes I did. It was on display on the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the leopard'. 

Issue: 4027 / Categories: Comment & Analysis
back to top icon