Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
MONTAGU KCB, MR
MONDAY 18 MARCH 2002
20. This was not a projection, this was an identification
of a capability of the system in terms of not going into overload?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) Exactly, but based on a projection
21. So the real projection was not 315,000,
that is what you could have done, and if you had gone over 315
you would have had problems? That is implicit in what you are
saying. What was the projection?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) You are asking me for a prediction,
not a projection
22. I am looking for a target. What was the
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) We did not have targets, Mr
23. So I have got this right
(Sir Nicholas Montagu)It would not have made
sense jumping into the unknown, as Sir John notes.
24. I am just asking for the facts. You did
not have a target but you had a projection that was not really
a projection, it was an upper limit of capability of 315,000,
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) It was our estimate, and the
Comptroller and Auditor General uses the word "estimate",
of what the maximum number of people wanting to file electronically
25. So what is your capability because obviously
there are millions of these people, nine million self assessment
taxpayers, and you could have coped with 315,000 but fortunately
only 39,000 applied? Is that the situation?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) Broadly speaking, I think you
are thinking of Figure 8 which refers to "unrepresented"
26. So I am clear here. If for argument's sakeand
I was about to suggest but perhaps I will not nowthat of
the nine million self assessment people five million do their
own returns and four million have agents and accountants and the
like, to what extent do you provide incentives and opportunities
for these agents accountants to get their act together? After
all, these are supposed to be professional bean counters rather
than just business people? It is very disappointing that of four
million agents, we only have tens of thousands putting these in.
Why is that? Incidentally, if ten per cent of them put them in,
your system would crash, from what you seem to be saying.
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) What I am saying is that if
the number is over the absolute maximum that we thought was possible,
then there would have been much greater risk. We want it to be
risk-free. So far as accountants and agents are concerned, there
has been the facility for them to file by the internet since last
November but, equally, of course
27.How are they doing? There are four
million of them. How many are doing it?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) I do not know if I have the
figure. Barry will find you some figures. While he is doing so,
can I make the point that what this hearing is about, Mr Davies,
is e-services and we are not just talking about internet filing.
The electronic lodgement service was introduced
28. But that is what I am talking about!
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) Mr Davies, could I be allowed
to finish my answers?
29. I have got very little time and you are
using a great deal of time to answer these questions. So I have
got this rightwe have got nine million self assessment
forms and you were saying at the time 315,000 was the upper limit
capability. What I was going to suggest was various ways of increasing
the level of take-up. What is the level of capability that you
could cope with now? If nine million people on self assessment
did their returns electronically, could you cope with that?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) Virtually 100 per cent.
30. You can do nine million now? A moment ago
you were saying you could only do 315,000.
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) Terry, do you want to comment
(Mr Hawes) It is a slightly more complex position
than that. The major determinant is how many returns we can handle
simultaneously, the messages actually coming in. So it is not
the total number we might get but the total number we can absorb
at a particular time. If they were spread evenly across the year
we can accept vast numbers.
31. What does "vast numbers" mean?
(Mr Hawes) Well in excess of the total SA population
because we have to size to take the peak input.
32. If nine million applied within a monthbecause
people do not put their tax returns in until towards the deadline
for the tax year, do they?
(Mr Hawes) There is a complicated profile and quite
a few come in at the last minute, yes.
33. You know what the profile of applications
empirically is of the people putting them in. If all these people
put their returns in at the time they always put them in but put
them in electronically, what proportion of those could you cope
with within the time-frame they use?
(Mr Hawes) We could probably cope with all of them
but I have to say we have sized to take the sort of projections
that we have got. We have looked at the loads on the system when
it is carrying the current capacity and there would appear to
be no problem in scaling up by very large amounts. The point that
is very important here is in the early days we had to be careful
to scale to a reasonable size so that we were not spending huge
amounts of money on capacity we did not need. We also had to be
sure that we had capacity. As the system has grown, bedded down
and become more sophisticated, we can add simple extra capacity
very, very quickly.
34. It seems to me that what you are saying
is you are gradually building capacity, so you are not going out
gung-ho to small businesses, for instance, and telling them or
training them how to fill in their forms so you can save £3
a time. Is that right, Sir Nicholas?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) I do not think that is right,
35. You are going out then?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) We are, and our business support
teams all interface with small businesses and we would encourage
them. Equally, a lot of small businesses will use agents or intermediaries
rather than file themselves. We would welcome it from all of them.
I can give you the figure you wanted now. 1,194 agents have registered
for the internet lodgement service. That is in addition to the
nearly 3,000 who are already using the electronic lodgement service
for over 340,000 taxpayers.
36. 1,194? So about 1,200 on the basis of about
four million. That does not sound very good to me. These people
are supposed to be numerate, professional advisers.
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) We are talking about different
things, Mr Davies. You are talking about four million taxpayers
37. Of the four million people who file tax
returns, how many of those use the internet?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu)And I am talking about
1,194 of their agents.
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) I am talking about 1,194 of
their agents registered to use the internet service.
39. 1,194 agents out of a total of four million
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) No. You are talking about four
million taxpayers; I am talking tax agents.