I just *underpaid* my tax because of a poor interfaceFebruary 23, 2011
What if thousands of people were underpaying their tax by accident, and getting fined for it later? I can’t be the only one.
Paying your tax as a self-employed person is never fun. Some years ago I switched to a stricter accounting regime in order to ensure I was saving the correct amount of tax in advance into a separate account.
I submit my UK tax return once a year, which tells me what I should pay at the end. There’s a lot of things about accounting, tax, and the process that I am prone to forget (once a year only!), so there’s an additional burden on this interface to guide me through this complicated task successfully, without having to remember lots of little details.
Clearly I got it wrong this year: I’ve just received a letter informing me that I’d underpaid my tax, by a not insignificant amount. I won’t go into the boring details of tax, but the problem is caused at the end of the process:
- they shock a user by incorrectly asking for a very large payment that is two tax years added together – no idea why they even show this (see ‘WHAT THE HELL??’ in my screenshot)
- they don’t calculate and display the figure you should pay, even though the numbers needed for calculation are displayed right there. In fact, you’re mislead by a different figure. (see ‘OK, will pay right away’ in my screenshot)
Do they have any idea how error-prone this screen turns out to be? Â Once again, I wonder if this is a page with an initially poor design, that’s resulted in a lot of expensive, labour-making mistakes. A few questions then…
- Are they unaware?
- What are theÂ bureaucratic/cultural/cost barriers to fixing it?
- Is there some technicality that means they can’t show the correct calculation?
- Is it deliberate? Are they profiting from the resulting mistake?
Here’s my guess: there’s a stakeholder somewhere in the chain who believes that its the user’s job to know all of the little details about tax, including how to calculate. But here’s the rub: this screen actively misleads a user, as opposed to just leaving them to calculate on their own.
It would be better to show less, or nothing, forcing a user to to check with their accountant, or perhaps re-read how to do the calculation. But I’d prefer it if they showed the right number!