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Improving Self Assessment on GOV.UK

GOV.UK is the new home of HMRC information since we completed transition of all government agencies and arms-length bodies in December 2014.

This means that millions of users now come to GOV.UK for information about Self Assessment tax returns. This includes things like who has to fill in a return, how to get help and how to pay your bill.

Many of the 10 million people who need to fill in a return leave it close to the 31 January deadline before filing their returns.

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Page views for Self Assessment content on GOV.UK from Google Analytics


So this January, we set up a small group of content designers to carry out an in-depth review of the entire Self Assessment topic, working with colleagues at HMRC. We couldn’t change the tax return itself as it’s part of HMRC’s online services, but we could look at making Self Assessment content better serve user needs.

 Our aims were to:

  • improve user journeys - make it simpler for people to find what they’re looking for
  • improve content - make it clearer, identify and fill gaps, and reduce duplication
  • respond quickly to evidence of common problems

Improving user journeys

We started by visualising the existing content on GOV.UK by each stage of the Self Assessment process.

Self Assessment user journey timeline



This high-level understanding of the user journey helped us to identify links that needed to be added between content items to help users find things more easily.

We also reviewed data from searches on page and user feedback (from Feedex) to identify where we could improve user journeys. For the Self Assessment tax returns guide we found that around half of both on-page searches and user comments were related to users looking to log in to HMRC online services.

We added in links at various appropriate points throughout the guide, resulting in on-page searches decreasing - and related comments dropping to zero.

Working in this way, we made some other big changes to the Self Assessment guide. This  had previously been through many smaller factual and stylistic updates in the 30 editions since it was published in July 2012. Reviewing data increased our understanding of user needs so we could make informed decisions about how to improve the content.

Introductions to Self Assessment on GOV.UK - before and after



Improving content: helping users to register

We also looked at the information for users looking to register for Self Assessment.

User feedback told us:

  • they were confused about the process
  • it was hard to find how register as an individual, rather than as a business
  • they didn’t know how long it took

We realised the existing content wasn’t clear enough, and needed more context to point different users to the appropriate next steps. We learned that the registration process varied widely depending on whether the user was self-employed or in Self Assessment for another reason. So we turned a single-page piece of content into a 3-part guide to address the questions we knew that users were asking.

Register for Self Assessment on GOV.UK - before and after


We will monitor this content for user feedback and to check that on-page searches fall.

Responding to common problems

Users’ needs changed as the 31 January deadline for filing their return and paying their bill approached.

We checked on-page searches and Feedex comments every day for every piece of Self Assessment content. We wanted to identify any problems that were arising as soon as possible.

Daily review of Self Assessment content

For example, we spotted a high number of users searching for ‘paying’ (and related terms) on the Log in and file your return page - over 30 searches on both 25 and 26 January. So we added a link to Pay your Self Assessment tax bill on the right-hand side of the page, and searches fell.

Related link to 'Pay your Self Assessment bill' added to the right-hand side of the page


As the 31 January deadline approached, the number of comments left by users on the Pay your Self Assessment tax bill page went up from around 3 a day to 12 a day. Many of these were from users who wanted to know how to phone HMRC to pay their bill.

As this isn’t an option for payment, we added a prominent line in the ‘Overview’ chapter letting users know. As a result, the number of comments about paying by phone dropped to zero.

Ways to pay with new prominent line added


What did we learn?

By the end of January, we had iterated almost every piece of Self Assessment content. In some cases this was a full rewrite, in others a tweak.

Our experience on this project showed us:

  • the importance of working closely with colleagues in HMRC - their hard work in checking that our changes were accurate helped us keep moving quickly
  • what we can achieve with a small team of content designers focused on a single topic
  • the value of listening to users, through search data and on-page feedback, which can help us understand how to design content that better meets their needs

We achieved a lot in a short amount of time in January. We recognised that by starting some of this work earlier we could get better data about how our changes were improving things for users.

The Self Assessment pages were the most visited on GOV.UK during the peak in January but we weren’t able to display them in the ‘Popular on GOV.UK’ list. We know this is a quick and easy way for users to get to the content they need and we are working to improve this for next time.

There’s still much to do. We’re continuing to build on our cross-government content strategy principles to develop this way of working. We will continue to evaluate the way users respond to our changes, and to identify things we’ve missed or need to improve.

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  1. Comment by Alan Maddrell posted on

    And that's agile content. Chapeau!

  2. Comment by Matt Clarke posted on

    What if you need to claim money you are owed such as mileage which is not covered under PAYE? Do you have to register again? I will be owed thousands under this change having been told I no longer need to complete a return.

  3. Comment by Andy Harsant posted on

    Hi Matt - you can find information on claiming mileage on GOV.UK:

    If you’re still not sure how to claim, you can contact HMRC by tweeting @hmrccustomers or calling the helpline: