Charity warns access to marriage allowance must not become a “test of digital competence”

5th March 2015

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Hundreds of thousands could miss out on a new tax break for married couples as a result of it only being made available to those who apply for it online.

The new transferable allowance for married couples and civil partners comes into effect in the 2015-16 tax year, starting on 6 April.

This tax-break could enable eligible couples to save up to £212 in tax per annum. But the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) is concerned that requiring couples to register and apply for the relief online could exclude a substantial minority of eligible taxpayers who do not use a computer or the internet.

Anthony Thomas, chairman of the LITRG, said: “The transferable allowance is a welcome tax break for couples, however, the key question is will everyone who is eligible be able to claim? It is HMRC’s responsibility to ensure that everybody who is eligible can apply for the allowance, whether or not they have access to a computer and the internet.

“We are concerned that HMRC’s current position is that the application process will be online-only.”

While the vast majority of younger generations are computer savvy, LITRG has urged that many taxpaying pensioners, only communicate with the Revenue through post or by phone.

“The assumption that these people, a significant number of whom will be eligible for the relief, will now seamlessly transfer their interactions with HMRC online is naïve in the short-term and could prove exclusionary in the long-term,” added Thomas.

“Indeed, simply to find out information on the relief, never mind registering for it, requires access to the internet and the competence to navigate the ‘gov.uk’ website.

While HMRC will guide users through the digital service or enter a user’s information into the digital service on their behalf, where required, Thomas has however labelled this as merely “a partial solution”.

He said: “It is an unnecessary commitment of resources which could have been avoided if paper and phone options had been incorporated from the very beginning.

“We will therefore continue to encourage the Government to introduce a postal or telephone application service to ensure that nobody who is eligible to receive the marriage allowance is excluded or put off from registering because of unfamiliarity with, inability to use, or capacity to afford, a computer.”

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