Clearing the path: Online Centres help people connect with government

As 2019 marks our HMRC project's fifth year of supporting people in communities to use HMRC services, Digital Social Inclusion Manager Natalie Thorpe looks at the impact the project has had.

Our HMRC project is now approaching the fifth year of supporting people in communities to use HMRC services including Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Tax (PAYE), VAT and National Insurance. It’s been an amazing journey to date, seeing how people’s lives can be changed by straightforward advice and guidance.

Supporting people to interact with HMRC services through necessity has in many cases led them to want to learn more about how they can use government services – and digital – to access other benefits to their lives. We’ve seen this have a real impact on both their immediate situation and their lives reaching into the future.

North Manchester Communities Partnerships is just one of the centres participating in this project. Tutor John Curtin, has helped many learners like Vasilikey, Khalissa and Bushra over the years to turn their situation around and become more positive and proactive in their interactions with government services.

Following a one year pilot beginning in April 2015, nearly 50 Online Centres have been providing support in their communities from 2016 onwards. The project has now surpassed its targets reaching 29,925 people over three years. Overall since April 2015, we have now supported 34,269 individuals with advice and guidance, and we’re very pleased to have been successful in securing another years funding to reach a further 7,700 up to March 2020.

Thanks to the funding from HMRC, Online Centres have been able to help people interact more confidently with HMRC benefits and tax services. Centres already support people with a wide range of services, helping to identify and respond to their individual needs. Whatever form this ends up taking – help with the English language, literacy or numeracy abilities, digital skills – these all contribute to the overall package of support needed in communities up and down the UK, alongside vital help with government services.

“There was one case, I remember, one of the kids was saying they were hungry at school. The school realised that granny— because I think the mother had died—was doing it all out of her pension and hadn’t known to claim all these other benefits. So we got all that sorted out. People are aware of Child Benefit, but not always Child Tax Credits.”

Advisor, Online Centre in London

Although many Online Centres staff and users have welcomed the shift of HMRC services online, it’s important to remember this change can be complex. Support must remain in place to assist those who are less able to access HMRC services digitally. Online Centres (such as Wai Yin Society) already have the digital inclusion expertise and are extremely well placed to provide assisted digital access for HMRC users. Yet these same centres are facing increasing challenges as the burden placed on them to support communities becomes ever greater.

Our evaluation report Accessing HMRC services: the role of the community sector highlights some key recommendations which include the government continuing to support the Online Centre Network to deliver advice, guidance and assisted digital public services. This is key to ensure that no-one is left behind in the pace to deliver more online government services.

We look forward to continuing to develop our HMRC advice and guidance project and providing evidence on the ongoing impact that this valuable funding continues to have. If you have any questions on either the project or our assisted digital work, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at

Natalie Thorpe

Digital Social Inclusion Manager

Natalie supports the development of strategic business opportunities with new and existing partners, as well as managing the delivery of projects as part of our Digital Social Inclusion programme.