Description of the programme
Tax Volunteers is a national charity providing free, independent and expert advice for older people on lower incomes without the means to pay for professional tax advice. They developed a programme, funded by the Money and Pensions Service, aiming to to answer the following question:
For older people aged 60+ with low levels of computer skills, what works well to enable them to access and manage their own digital personal tax accounts and overcome barriers to engaging with their finances online?
The programme ran between 2017-2019 and was aimed at older and retired people across the UK who were struggling financially and had poor digital skills. Participants were recruited through Tax Volunteer’s established Tax Help for Older People helpline, where they were asked a number of questions to assess suitability for the project.
There were four different methods of support available to help participants independently access their Personal Tax Account (PTA) and/or their Self Assessment form online through the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) website. Participants had the following options:
- A written guide;
- An online guide;
- Telephone support from an adviser;
- Face-to-face support from an adviser.
The outcome evaluation aimed to assess which of the intervention types were most effective in allowing participants to access online tax tools and their tax information on the HMRC website. Data was collected from participants during the recruitment process, and again four weeks after the intervention in order to measure any change in digital understanding and financial capability. The project ran from September 2017 until January 2019. The data collected comprised:
Baseline interviews- data was collected at the start of the process from 310 people (aged 60+) who had signed up to the programme.
Follow-up surveys – conducted four weeks after the intervention and completed by 216 participants.
Volunteer questionnaires – data was also collected form the Tax Volunteers where face-to-face or telephone appointments had occurred.
- Participants were given a choice of tasks. Three-in-five (61%) chose to attempt to set up a Personal Tax Account (PTA); a quarter (24%) opted for an online tax return; while the remaining 15% opted to try both tasks.
- Over half of the participants received written support (55%), one-in-five (22%) received face-to-face support, 13% had telephone support and 9% accessed online support.
- Of the 216 participants who provided follow-up data, over three-quarters (77%) were successful in completing their task (either setting up a PTA or completing an online return).
- The success rate was highest among those who had written support and face-to-face support (82% and 81% respectively; though note these percentages are based on a small number of observations).
- The lowest success rate was among those who accessed telephone support (64%; though note these percentages are based on a very small number of observations).
- The findings showed a statistically significant improvement in participants’ perceptions of some aspects of financial capability, such as satisfaction with their current financial situation, knowledge of where to go to get help with finances, and understanding the need to keep track of their income and expenditure.
- Participants also reported a statistically significant improvement in their ability to use the internet and check online that they were paying the correct amount of tax.
- Reasons given for being unable to compete the tasks included not being able to proceed because of identification issues (an issue outside of their control), a lack of confidence, and technical tax problems preventing further processing.
The sharing of information and feedback through the process resulted in:
- A better understanding of what works when helping older people with low digital skills;
- An understanding of the impact of accessing online tools on wider financial capability;
- Building stronger relationships with HMRC;
- Volunteers having a better understanding of HMRC online tools;
- The sharing of the programme materials as a free resource to people beyond the project.
Points to consider
Methodological strengths/weaknesses: The lack of survey data from a control group meant it was not possible for the evaluation to evidence causality.
- However, due to statistical significance testing, we can have a fair degree of confidence in the results despite some relatively small sample sizes.
- A follow-up survey after 3-6 months would have helped to evaluate any lasting change that the intervention may have had.
- Qualitative interviews would provide more depth and granularity to the research findings.
Generalisability/ transferability: The evaluation is of significant interest to those looking to commission or deliver online financial capability interventions among older people.
Relevance: The results are tested for statistical significance, but due to the relatively low number of participants, further evidence would be needed before using this as a basis for commissioning similar interventions.