HMRC locks out taxpayers from their online accounts

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Thousands of people, including pensioners and the self-employed, are locked out of filing their tax returns, or applying for rebates online, after HMRC changed the way taxpayers sign in to its services.

Until last month, they could access accounts after signing up through Verify, a government service that allows users to confirm their identity using a British driving licence or credit records. However, last month, HMRC unexpectedly withdrew from the service.

As a result, people can now only access tax accounts via Government Gateway, which requires them to hold two acceptable ID options from a list including a UK passport, a recent payslip or P60, a tax credit statement or a Northern Ireland driving licence.

HMRC advises those who can’t provide the required documents to submit their tax returns on paper, and to call its helpline for information about their tax status.

The very helpful HMRC call centre agent I spoke to was unaware of the changeLouise Wadley

Louise Wadley, who is self-employed, says she is now unable to complete a self-assessment form online because she has been barred from the account she previously accessed by Verify.

“I do not have a UK passport and my driving licence was issued in England, not Northern Ireland, so I can’t get past the first stage of Government Gateway,” she says.

“The very helpful HMRC call centre agent I spoke to was unaware of the change and advised me to file my return by post, even though they are trying to reduce the number of paper returns.” Verify was launched by the Cabinet Office in 2014 to allow users to access government services from a single account.

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To sign up, users provide their details to one of two approved organisations, the Post Office and a company called Digidentity, which check and verify their identity.

The aim was to sign up 25 million users by the end of 2020. However, HMRC developed a rival authentication system in 2017 and, last year, the Cabinet Office announced its flagship system would close in April 2023.

HMRC’s decision to scrap Verify a year early appears to have caught its staff and users unawares.

The government’s Verify guidance and sign-in websites continued to list it as a portal to HMRC services for up to a week after it withdrew it, until Guardian Money intervened.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), which holds driver records used for verification, initially told the Guardian that HMRC would use the system until next year.

The 2023 deadline announced by the Cabinet Office was to allow time for an alternative system to be developed, but HMRC appears to have ditched Verify without a back-up plan.

View image in fullscreenHMRC’s decision to scrap Verify a year early appears to have caught its staff and users unawares. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

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It told Guardian Money that it was working on increasing the range of acceptable ID, but could not yet accept a British driving licence because the DVLA would not allow it access to its database.

According to the DVLA, officials only requested access last month and it is still processing the paperwork.

To compound the problem, technical issues have left many users unable to log on to Government Gateway and, until March, advisers on HMRC’s community forum pointed them to Verify, instead.

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The move will have an impact on pensioners and young people who don’t have employer payslips, and on foreign nationals who can’t provide a UK passport.

Loic Baron, who is French, has been trying to set up a tax-free childcare account, using HMRC’s Gateway, since moving to the UK in 2020.

“Registration requires a UK passport, which I don’t have,” he says. “I have had to apply by phone, involving many calls, and waits of about half an hour, as a ‘digitally excluded’ person. Being a software engineer, I find it hard to believe that I fall into this category.”

Taking away the Verify option is unhelpful, given there are issues with Government Gateway that remain to be resolvedA Low Incomes Tax Reform Group spokesperson

Derek Mullins* says his 17-year-old daughter has been unable to correct her tax status because she doesn’t have the required ID.

“She has been overtaxed to the value of several hundred pounds and HMRC’s website told us that, to correct this, we needed to set up Government Gateway access for her,” he says.

“Both a passport and a Northern Ireland driving licence are required. As we live in England, of course she was not able to oblige.”

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group says the change will have a significant impact on many users. “Taking away the Verify option is unhelpful, given there are issues with Government Gateway that remain to be resolved,” a spokesperson says. “The results of this decision seem somewhat at odds with HMRC’s drive towards digital.”

HMRC told Guardian Money that those unable to access their accounts online could sort out their affairs via its helpline – despite an automated message warning callers of busy lines and long wait times – or by letter.

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This month it was revealed that HMRC responded to only 52% of correspondence within 15 days of receipt in February, compared with 88% before the pandemic.

HMRC says: “Most customers can deal with us securely online and we are continually looking at how we can increase accessibility to Government Gateway without reducing protections.

“We always provide alternative ways for customers to access our services where they cannot use Government Gateway.”

* Name has been changed

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