Tuesday, January 6, 2009

7% of records in HMRC's system contains errors

I picked this up from The Register last week.

The problems came to light after enquiries by Tory MP for Putney Justine Greening concerning a constituent who had found errors on their records. Apparently the Government has admitted that HMRC's frameworks database contains mistakes in just over 7% of the records (ie: mistakes were found in 3.5m records out of a total of 47m).

The frameworks database feeds information into various other databases held not just by HMRC but other departments too. How many of HMRC records with mistakes have been amended? How serious are or were the mistakes? If 3.5 million have been identified this suggests to me that the mistakes are simple and obvious ones. Otherwise how would anyone know they were mistakes?

Justine Greening apparently told The Register that: "It shows there are substantial problems with records so it is no wonder there are problems with tax returns and probably tax credits too."

She said she had tried to investigate why her constituent had their record changed wrongly, but the Treasury was very vague about what the process was for changing records - the department would only say that they can be changed for "business needs".

Apparently Justine will be asking more questions on this issue when the House gets back to work.

The frameworks database only contains quite simple information - first, second and surname, title, sex, data of birth, address and National Insurance number. Hence my view that the mistakes must be quite simple and obvious.

Justine suggested to The Register that: "Many people are probably unaware what is wrong."

She may be right but how serious is this likely to be in practice? Sorry. Let me be more specific. How many of the mistakes are likely to have a serious impact? As in people being associated with someone else's records? Or being denied tax reliefs, tax credits or pensions due to the wrong date of birth being recorded and not corrected?

Whilst I would like to hope that we could aspire to have zero mistakes in these important records, I'm a realist. I would imagine that a certain level of mistakes is almost inevitable in any large database. So how bad is this situation really? I'm sure you'll tell me......

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