Not a good week for the e-government revolution, at least as far as websites go – a shame in the week that record-breaking income tax returns were filed online.
First, the Downing Street petitions website fell over apparently as the Express launched a campaign to ban the “Death Tax”, aka inheritance tax. This was a smart move, revisiting the decades old rebranding of “death insurance” to “life insurance.”
Oddly, the “Scrap vehicle tracking and road pricing” petition has nearly 650,000 signatures but the “Scrap inheritance tax in this year’s budget” (referred to as the ihtcrusade in the website’s own URL) has only 15,099, slightly fewer than the petition to ban ID cards. Perhaps it was vehicle pricing that caused the shutdown rather than IHT? The road pricing campaign is by far and away the largest petition (No 2 on the list has only 22,000 signatures and is seeking to repeal the Hunting Act). By the by, I believe the petitions sub-site was setup by the folks at MySociety.com. It’s a nice job.
The Valuations Office site collapsed under load as newspapers published stories about potential re-banding (and therefore refunds) of council tax.
Homeowners hoping to reclaim thousands of pounds in council tax have caused a Government website to grind to a near halt. Online traffic to the Valuation Office Agency’s website increased almost 20-fold after a consumer campaigner claimed that households could be set for a windfall due to “ad hoc” home evaluations. Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said more than a million people could have been overpaying for as long as 14 years.
The VOA problem attracted lots of forum posts in the money world. Downing Street naturally got better press with the “get Blair out no matter what” newspapers, notably the Express, making it front page news, even if it wasn’t perhaps their petition that caused the shutdown. Still, if HMRC and the government gateway can handle tens of thousands of complex online tax forms in the space of a few hours, you’d imagine that a website could handle a few lookups of council tax banding or a few thousand signatures.