Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Joining up the unjoinupable

I've just been taking care of my Self Assessment, online as you'd expect. I'm lucky enough to be getting a refund which is a bit of good news for me. But what about all the other government services that I might use? What if I could go somewhere online and find out that not only am I due a refund in tax but that I'm also lax in applying for a certain tax credit that I am owed? Perhaps also I could be reminded that my driving licence address doesn't match the address where I am living now and that I can update it with a couple of clicks. A really joined up service might alert me to the opportunity to apply early for a new benefit that will be available soon that will add a few pounds to my bank account. If it got super smart, maybe there'd be a single account where all of the credits that government owed me were applied and all the debits were taken out - so tax credits, tax refunds and benefits get deposited and passport renewals, TV licences, council tax and so on get debited. At the end of each tax year there's a quick reconcilement that shows whether I am in debit or credit overall and then I settle up or pocket the difference. Pretty simple in concept, hugely challenging in implementation. If I could offer you all of that, would you be interested? Would you sign up tomorrow? Would you worry about the impact of joining up the unjoinupable, of joining up government? Now suppose, in an alternative scenario I visit the same site and it finds something different. This time round, I owe money to the Inland Revenue, I have been overpaid tax credits, I'm late with my council tax and maybe I've for three difference addresses running across three departments and that looks out of place - perhaps an indication of my own incompetence in keeping things up to date or perhaps something more sinister? In this scenario, would you be interested? Would you sign up tomorrow if you thought that this would be the case? Would you worry about the impact of joining up the unjoinupable, of joining up government? Same process, same technology, same business rules, same legislative requirement ... same outcome at a macro level: joined up government. Different outcome at an individual level. Maybe 99% of people fall into something close to the first scenario. Would you stop joining things up for the 1%? Would you never even start joining up for the 1%? Perhaps where you vote depends on which scenario you fall into. Perhaps where you vote on this depends on your fear of what government might find out. Perhaps it depends on whether you are worried that government will somehow find out something that even you don't know. Intrinsically, it makes sense to try and do this - even though it is a staggering challenge - but at some level, is everyone worried about somehow falling into the second scenario and being caught on the hop?

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