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Credit where credits due - Assisted Digital Research for the Tax Credit Service

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Sara Godfrey from HMRC

HMRC’s Sara Godfrey talks about her experience as an assisted digital lead for Tax Credits Service.

The Tax Credits service has just over 5 million customers. We estimate that around a third of them will need assisted digital support, with a smaller percentage of around 5% being fully digitally excluded. With Tax Credits we have developed a digital service to enable customers to renew or make a change to their claim online. We started by thinking about what the service users’ barriers were to going online and how to design an Assisted Digital Service for customers.

Our starting point for designing the assisted digital research was through the quantitative studies we carry out each year. These track our customers’ engagement with digital services. This research indicated that many of our customers were digitally engaged and used the internet for shopping, banking and social media.

However, we couldn’t assume from this research alone that all of our customers would have no difficulties with an online service. During user testing we observed a gap between customers’ perceptions of their online capabilities (”I’m really good at it. I do internet shopping and a bit of online banking”) and the reality of having to complete a tax credits form online (an unfamiliar and infrequently carried out activity).

How could we support our Assisted Digital customers?

To find this out we ran some focus groups. The first was a more traditional approach where we used a specialist research company to find customers to research with. Some of these customers told us how stressful they would find dealing with us online, and why they preferred to phone a call centre adviser.

In the second focus group we wanted to understand what a good assisted digital service would be for our key target group - customers on a low income with English as a second language. However, the research company said it was too hard to find people in this group. Undeterred, I decided to conduct a focus group with parents at my son’s school. This school has high levels of pupils who get free school meals and have English as their second language. The results of the focus group were fascinating:

  • Very few of the parents had the Internet at home and those that did weren’t happy with their children helping them with the online Tax Credits service
  • The Tax Credits service was seen as something private and personal. Customers were nervous of going to a public space such as a library to complete a Tax Credit form
  • The two public places where they would consider completing the form were “community” spaces – their local Social Housing Office or a Sure Start Centre. They said these places felt safe, private and trusted
  • Customers were more inclined to go online if someone helped them complete the forms

In spite of initial resistance to going online, at the end of the session all of the parents were interested in taking a digital training course and understanding how to use the Internet better.

Next steps

  • To build on these findings we are now running a pilot at a Social Landlords to look at the role of Housing Associations as digital guardians
  • We are developing an assisted digital call centre approach to identify our customer needs to handhold our customers through the digital service.

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