A good way to gain a working understanding of the complicated New Zealand tax system and how hard it is to develop IT systems that allow users to interface painlessly is to log into the new myIR website and, well, use it to keep up with your obligations.
The oddly capitalised myIR is the realm in cyberspace where interpretation of arcane laws is fed into IT systems old and new, and collides with possibly unrealistic taxpayer expectations that the new site should be easier and faster to use.
Mostly, the site works but it’s the little things that you stumble over, like changing addresses for those about to be taxed.
IRD clearly wants the address to be in a specific format. The form for the address change doesn’t provide heaps of guidance for that, so there’s a reasonably good chance that you’ll get the address wrong. Well not wrong, just not the way it should be, like if you enter “concrete” in the “floor type” box.
To get it right, the website developers added a “verify address” button.
You might think that pressing that button tries to verify that what you’ve entered is the actual, physical address to use, through for example sending a letter with a code like Trade Me does, or some other out of band method. It doesn’t.
Instead, it brings up a list of multiple address choices formatted the way IRD likes them, and you pick the one that looks right.
If you don’t click on “verify address” and click on “next” to continue, a dialog with an error message pops up. Unhelpfully, it simply says “correct the error” and not “please click on verify the address button before continuing” or, greying out “next” so that it doesn’t work until you click “verify address”.
Sure, eventually you’ll work out where the problem is but getting stuck in a change of address form that throws up generic error messages like that makes you wonder how it could have happened.
Getting the small things right is important, especially to guide people who have migrated from paper to digital and who find it difficult to second guess what cryptically named buttons and mysterious error messages refer to.
Another area that I really wanted to work better, and I’m sure others would too, is communicating with the IRD over the website. Correspondence, as the IRD calls it, is one of the scariest acts a grown-up has to engage in.
Now this is definitely tricky to get right. Developers have to make sure that the content of any messages and letters is kept private and secure. That’s hard as almost every week there’s a security breach reported where sensitive private information is spilled on the internet with phishers actively trying to click-trick you so as to break into your accounts.
Mostly, the site works but it’s the little things that you stumble over, like changing addresses for those about to be taxed. Photo / File
That’s very hard to get right with plain old email, so there’s an inbox on the IRD site.
Ideally, you don’t want to get email from the IRD so that there are messages waiting on the site as that’s an attack vector phishers will go for. How to securely send out notifications about messages that you really need to read is a long and complicated story for another time.
For now, log in to the site a few times every month but not at regular intervals, to see if you have IRD mail.
There’s also a letters section where you receive electronic facsimiles of paper missives from the IRD about all sorts of formalities.
To read them, click on a link with a title and good grief, the site developers insist on displaying the letters in browser pop-up windows. Browsers have blocked pop-ups for years now as it’s a massively abused feature to display spammy pages and even harmful content.
You can allow pop-ups as per the error dialog that pops up, or click on a secondary link that will open up the letter in a new browser tab. A simpler way would be just to forget about pop-ups for letter display altogether.
Letters are one-way communication from the IRD. There’s no way to respond to them, or to create a letter of your own to send to the IRD.
To send a message, you go to the Unread Messages section instead. Sadly, the message sending is as awkward as it was before.
Why can’t it be more modern email-like which is what people are used to? Simple things like being able to respond to messages would be great.
Messages going into the Outbox after you click on send and staying there makes you think they didn’t go off because that’s how your email program works.
Ah well; I could go on, but I’m probably being unfair and fail to appreciate how developers have battled to modernise code going back to The Age of Mainframes and Written Forms.
That said, sorting out your tax is important so what would it take to make things better?
Another billion dollars or two for the IRD, and developers who love usability maybe.
Tax laws that translate better into a web-based system is probably too worth a consideration. I’m open to anything, but please oh please let me respond to messages instead of having to create a new one each single time.