Sunday, February 02, 2003

Security is the issue ... what was the question?

There was another survey out this week, I think from Checkpoint (the people that make firewalls, and pretty good ones at that). Their survey talked about the barriers to filing tax online, with 48% people (from a sample of 200 if memory serves correctly - was that 200 Self Assessment tax payers who were unrepresented by an agent I wonder?) saying that security was a barrier, 10% saying it was the Government Gateway and a few other issues. Now, you all know that I'm pretty sceptical of surveys and maybe I'd be proved wrong if I could find this survey on the web (I checked the Checkpoint site, The Register, VNU and other obvious candidates but couldn't find it - and I'm pretty sure I'm not making this stuff up). But, let's suppose that the first question on the sheeet is: Do you see security as an issue with filing tax returns on the website? Now, even I'd answer "yes" to that - because it should always be an issue, and one that people should be concerned about. But if the question were: If you didn't file your tax return on the Internet this year, and you were eligible, what are the reasons that you didn't? Then I'd expect a very different set of responses to come out, because the answer is unprompted. Similarly with the Gateway issue ... did the survey ask "Did you have problems using the Government Gateway?", or did it say "If you did not file your return, was the Government Gateway part of the problem?" or something like that. It's a bit of a "have you stopped beating your wife?" question, isn't it. If the answer is prompted then the survey is valueless. If it isn't, then we're onto something useful ... but I'd need to know what the issues were specifically so that I could fix them. Last April, the Inland Revenue sent a pre-registered PIN to every Self Assessment tax payer who was not represented by an agent (i.e. all the people who might file online). Therefore, none of those people needed even to see the Gateway, unless they lost the PIN. Even then they need not have seen it if they just used the IR's website, which handles everything pretty much by itself pretty smartly. On average, 35,000 people register on the Gateway every month - whether that's for PAYE, SA, Tax Credits, Child Benefit or whatever. I'm all for research (I won't use that quote about a drunk leaning on a lamp post again), but show me the questions, tell me about the sample, give me some specific quotes ... and then we can address the problem. Give me none of those and then it's only so much paper for the wastebasket, isn't it? (An hour or so later ... I found a story on the Checkpoint press release, at Security Focus)

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