Revenue IT boss admits missing £50bn

One of the most senior officials at the newly merged Inland Revenue and Customs has lifted the lid on chaotic practices at the fused tax office, saying he believes it fails to collect up to £50bn a year in tax.

Steve Lamey, chief information officer at HMRC, made the disclosure during a London technology conference he was addressing on how to remove major inefficiencies in the process of tax collection.

Among the solutions aired, he recommended tackling poor quality data, updating ageing computer systems and setting ambitious performance indicators to boost Revenue performance.

According to Mr Lamey, such measures would help combat the proliferation of wrongly addressed letters sent to taxpayers, which he estimates accounts for over 30 million pieces of correspondence in the last 12 months.

His other big revelation struck directly at the heart of the Revenue's oft-troubled IT systems, which Lamey has taken over since joining the Revenue from private sector outfit, British Gas. He said the tax office computers were fragmented, unreliable and complex.

"If I were an information technology historian I would love it," Lamey exclaimed, adding "we need to move on from there."

The CIO has since issued a statement departing from his comments, saying he feels disappointed about the way his remarks have been misinterpreted and rejected their use as official estimates.

"In reality, it is notoriously difficult to estimate the amount of tax that goes uncollected because of evasion, avoidance and various forms of non compliance," said the statement.

"Any figures I mentioned," he said, "were entirely illustrative, [and were] offered in the context of a wider presentation on how IT can help improve the collection of unpaid tax."

He also told the audience of about 100 key Government managers that it had taken him three months to find out how many wrongly addressed letters were sent to taxpayers, according to Computer Weekly.

However, upon reflection, Lamey later claimed the figures he told Government leaders relating to the blundered letters were "based on limited and imprecise information."

In addition, he said millions of self-assessment forms are dealt with so quickly at the Revenue that just under half (48%) are processed incorrectly the first time and need reworking.

To start the many challenges, he vowed to implement a series of performance indicators to monitor progress in the problem areas, saying their absence in the public sector, and in his department, elevates them to the top of the CIO's pressing agenda.

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