Last week, Ofcom published how it planned to improve telecoms quality and coverage in its document making digital communications work for everyone.
In it, Ofcom recommended that BT open up its network to allow easier access for competitors to lay their own fibre cables, which is welcome news for the growing number of consumers and businesses who rely on broadband services.
This is also good news for the many individuals who are increasingly having to deal with HMRC and other departments online as the government's ‘digital by default’ agenda gains momentum. Following HMRC's publication of its digital roadmap last December, the government's aim that every individual taxpayer and business will be able to manage all their tax affairs online by 2020 is clear for all to see.
It is regrettable, therefore, that Ofcom does not seem to recognise the importance of the government's ‘digital by default’ agenda, and the consequential increase in the demands we will all have to place on broadband connectivity if we are to comply with our tax and other obligations to the government.
Ofcom agrees that many people – especially in rural areas - suffer from poor quality broadband service, and has pledged that all UK consumers will have access to fast, reliable broadband services over the next ten years. But ten years is a long time. Six years longer than the implementation of HMRC's digital roadmap.
What will happen to those people and businesses who are committed to doing the right thing to meet their tax obligations and other commitments, but are unable to do so as they are ‘digitally excluded’? Will they be branded as non-compliant with all that entails in terms of interest and penalties, loss of services and even naming and shaming?
It appears that HMRC is rushing towards implementing its digital strategy without clear recognition of the problems that exist for these individuals. Taxpayers need to have confidence that they can trust the authorities to act in a joined-up fashion to deal effectively with issues such as this. Failure here traps the digitally excluded in a Kafka-esque state whose requirements can only be met by using services denied to some citizens.
Perhaps Ofcom and HMRC should talk to each other?
For more information please contact George Bull or your usual RSM contact.