The number of self-assessment tax returns filed over the internet has shot up by 425 per cent, but experts say still more needs to be done to boost government services online.
By 31 January this year the Inland Revenue received a total of 324,710 returns over the internet, while in 2002 the figure was just 76,287. This compares with approximately 7.4 million paper returns by 30 January this year.
A spokeswoman explained that the increase in numbers was due to making the self-assessment site faster and adding improvements made on the basis of an online feedback form.
"Each year we get feedback online," she said. "From April we have planned further improvements.
"At the moment if you go into the Government Gateway you must come out again to get access to the Inland Revenue site. From April there will be a straight-through connection."
Other features, such as online help for form-filling, have encouraged greater use, the spokeswoman added. While admitting that the figures are low compared with paper returns, she predicted that they would "creep up as more people get computers".
One satisfied customer, Peter Shearer, a technical services manager for offshore investment group Bermuda Advisers Limited, said: "I found it very straightforward and as easy to use as Amazon.com.
"I have a 128k broadband connection so was not worried about staying online, but it only took me an hour to complete."
But not everyone was happy with their online filing experience. One user complained that he had been issued with a penalty notice for non-submission when the service had broken down and gone offline.
Jim Norton, independent policy advisor and former director of the Cabinet Office e-commerce team, called the upward jump in filing "not bad", but acknowledged that numbers "could be a lot better considering how many taxpayers there are".
"Bigger incentives are needed," he said. "There's a big problem with very low usage of e-government sites. Much more boldness is called for."
A spokeswoman from the Office of the e-Envoy said: "We recognise that British businesses and citizens are not yet using government services online in the numbers that match the best in the world.
"We need to ensure that the most popular services are made available as soon as possible, to maximise the impact of e-government."
The e-Envoy is working with departments to "agree a strategy for reform, designed to improve the development, delivery and communication of our online services", the spokeswoman added.
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