The sad case of GDS and the tax manuals

The UK’s Government Digital Service has been doing great work in putting users’ needs before the needs of government, so it was a shock to see the revised tax manuals the GDS and HMRC published recently.

In the GDS blog post, First HMRC manual on GOV.UK – give us your feedback, Till Worth explained:

“HMRC has built a new publishing system which makes it easier for its tax experts to update and maintain the content of the manuals. Tax agents, accountants and specialists need to be able to see the tax manuals exactly how HMRC publishes them internally, so the GDS team knew we couldn’t touch the content. We did create a new design for the manuals to make them more user-friendly and bring them in line with GDS design principles.”

From what I can see, there’s been two changes:

  1. New look and feel
  2. Changes to the navigation and search

Here is the old version:

VAT screen

Here is the new version:

new VAT screen

The look and feel is fine, but many navigational elements have been removed in the new version:

Missing navagational elements

One of the blog commenter wrote:

“The old site had links Home/Main Contents/Manual Contents/Previous Page/Next Page/Top/Menu. New site has none of these. On the new site you have to go back to the contents, remember what numbered page you’ve left and select the next page …

….Search: how do users search within manuals? Text input into the search box lists results from across GOV.UK. It doesn’t even confine search to HMRC.”

I understand that improvements to search and navigation are the next improvements the GDS will be making, and I understand the old version is still available to users. However, I’m really surprised the guides were published even as a beta version with those navigation elements stripped out. GDS has done great work on putting the reader first, but it seems in this case the technology has taken priority over the users.



Ellis Pratt

I think The Register has got it wrong. I agree with the GDS’s move towards a common approach to content. I suspect someone’s nose was put out of joint when they wanted to do things their own way, and were told they couldn’t.

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