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Managing the self assessment tsunami

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Text that reads "Don't miss the deadline"Every year millions of taxpayers rush at the last minute to file their tax returns before the January 31 deadline.  David Hargreaves from DWP Technology explains the scale of the technical systems challenge involved in handling this huge surge in demand, and keeping the service running.

The scale of the challenge

The annual end submission date for  tax self assessment in January is one of the critical events in the year for the Government Gateway, HMRC and government IT systems as a whole. For the 3 days before the final deadline the volumes of users explode, which is why this is known as the peak event.

This year was the largest yet. The Government Gateway processed over 2.9 million self assessment submissions in January. This was just part of almost 7.5 million transactions it handled over the whole month, and the 10 million online self assessments processed in 2015.

The volumes topped 400,000 on Friday 29 January. That’s the equivalent of 8.5 submissions per second.

Analysis and good planning: the keys to success

Being an annual event, the combined technical team of HMRC, Government Gateway and DWP had already predicted the pattern of activity, based on previous years. They’d worked together to create a meticulous plan and do joint testing prior to the peak event, involving DWP, HMRC and external suppliers Atos and Capgemini.

The team had made a number of enhancements to the Government Gateway in preparation for the peak event. This included:

  • a new virtualised infrastructure
  • enhanced performance monitoring tools
  • a ‘War Room’ in the Atos offices in Crewe with an open line to the HMRC mission control

Communication and collaboration

During the peak event the team moved to daily technical calls to keep the self assessment senior governance board informed, and to manage the event. There was a joint team based in the ‘War Room’ on the peak days (Friday 29, Saturday 30 and Sunday 31). Atos were continually monitoring the service and the volume of traffic passing through the Government Gateway.

At the final call at midnight on January 31 there was a sense of relief and celebration. The Government Gateway had successfully delivered a stable and fully available service for the self assessment peak event.

HMRC described it as a huge accomplishment and were delighted with the collaborative approach between government departments and suppliers which enabled the event to achieve its level of success.

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