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Blunted pin

27 April 2010 / Daniel Selwood
Issue: 4252 / Categories:
DANIEL SELWOOD wonders whether HMRC have polished their website a bit too much

Wikipedia reports that spring cleaning probably originated in Persia, where it is still practised.

The first day of the local new year, Norouz (New Light or New Day), marks the first day of spring, prior to which Iranians go through the rigmarole of khooneh tekouni, which translates literally as ‘shaking the house’. The home’s fixtures and fittings are given a thorough scrub and polish.

HMRC recently pulled on their Marigolds and set about applying elbow grease to their website, as was documented by barrister Anne Redston during her admirable cobweb campaign to force the Revenue’s online team to break out its virtual mop and bucket. The campaign has been suspended now that HMRC have paid attention.

One fears, however, that the department has shaken the house a little too hard. Only the dirt and dust was supposed to tumble out, but some of the furniture has ended up in the street, too.

Anne mentioned the issue earlier this month in her feature Cobweb clean-up, in which she noticed evidence of over-tidying. ‘The clean-up process does appear to have discarded some useful material,’ she wrote, highlighting the loss of a number of Briefs and a link to a downloadable pro-forma payment slip, among other things.

One wonders how regular taxpayers, who aren’t accountants or lawyers and often do not know exactly what they need, get on when trawling HMRC’s website – especially when the information is missing. I’m an experienced journalist who edits a leading taxation website, and even I sometimes have a heck of time making my way through the morass of bumf, only to realise I’m looking for data that is no longer available.

Anne recently emailed Taxation to reiterate how ‘the new spick-and-span approach sometimes goes a step too far’.

There followed an example: ‘On 14 April, I looked [on the Revenue's site] for the 2009 version of CWG2, the Employer’s Guide to PAYE. It had disappeared without trace, despite only being out of date for ten days.’

As a clued-up internet user, Anne searched the whole of the web and ‘stumbled over a treasure trove':, which is part of the European Archive, a non-profit foundation that indexes various government websites, including HMRC's.

Digging up treasure

Best use of the archives site can be made if one employs a URL from the taxman’s online offering. Copy the URL of the most current material – for instance, – and paste it into the search window on the National Archives’ web tool.

Select ‘the URLs’ from the little dropdown menu and click the ‘Search’ button. The result will be all versions of the required page, ordered by date. Looking for back issues of CWG2 turns up 35 variants (at the time of writing).

It is also possible to search by keywords, phrases and categories, but the URL route seems to be the most effective.

‘In my experience… you may need to try several phrases and/or open up several documents to find what you are looking for,’ warned Anne. The site’s advanced search system is still in a beta (testing) phase, so one hopes it will be refined before it launches fully. 

Anne went on to remind us that ‘since the High Court… recently reiterated that HMRC are bound by guidance that has given rise to legitimate expectations, it is more important than ever to be able to find the actual document on which you or your client relied at the time of the transaction.’

To put it another way: we’re chuffed that the taxman’s website is going to be as shiny as a new pin – but it’ll be no good with its point polished off.

Issue: 4252 / Categories:
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