Letter to IRAS

I wrote a letter to IRAS. Below is the full transcript:
Dear IRAS,
I have had great difficulty e-filing my taxes the past few weeks. Every time I log in I encounter an error page. This happens even after clearing my browser cache. The website is much slower than in previous years. Altogether, it is frustrating because all I need to do is fill in just one more field!
I do note that certain aspects have improved. I am grateful that most of my taxable income has been filled in already, making it more convenient for me.
However, there are other aspects of the site which are not user-friendly. For instance, when prompted to change my password after logging in for the first time, I was not sure what sort of password to enter. I recall seeing an example of what a password should be. Yet, I was told a few times that each new password I keyed in was unacceptable.
Rather than just giving examples, it would be more helpful to say upfront that it has to be alphanumeric and contain a specific number of characters. Lack of clarity forces users to re-submit new passwords multiple times. This wastes our time and adds unnecessary load to your server. Also, we should be told whether passwords are case-sensitive.
I strongly suggest you consult a usability consultant to prepare for next year’s e-filing. There is at least one such consultancy in Singapore and other civil servants have attended their workshops (www.microusability.com). My organisation hired them and vastly improved the usability of our website.
Next, I’m not certain why Netscape is supported but not Firefox. For next year’s e-filing I hope you take this increasingly popular browser into consideration. The website looks skewed in Internet Explorer for Mac, which is another common browser that isn’t supported here. I am, however, grateful that you do support Safari.
There are lots of small ways to ease the server load. I looked at your HTML code and some of it was unnecessary. Your designer uses Cascading Stylesheets (CSS), which is good, but she uses it in a limited way – to change fonts and colours. You can actually use CSS to position every element on your website and many other things, reducing the need to use tables for layouts. One CSS file can control the entire look and feel of a website, and you only need to load it once, as opposed to loading lots of ‘formatting’ code for every single page.
CSS is also recommended by IDA’s Web Interface Standards (which I believe all Government agencies must comply with), and by the World Wide Web Consortium (www.w3.org/Style/CSS/).
Also, even though CSS was used to control font appearances, your designer still used font tags in some areas of the site. Again, this is more unnecessary code because once you use CSS, you don’t need font tags anymore. Same goes for unnecessary ‘br’ tags and ‘&nbsp ;’ spaces – CSS can handle alignments, cell paddings, and margin spacings.
Your designer should look at this site, which shows that you can make functional AND good-looking websites with CSS: www.csszengarden.com.
Lastly, I hear that one major reason for the slowness of this year’s e-filing website could be due to SingPass. Whatever the case, I hope your administrators can resolve this problem as soon as possible. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to – friends and colleagues – have also experienced the same error messages on your website. As the filing deadline draws nearer, some of us are increasingly concerned that we cannot file our taxes in time.
I hope you think of us as customers and not as an obligation, and see my advice as an endeavour to help you improve your service.
Thank you for your time.
Best wishes,
Vanessa Tan.
[My auto-acronymiser seems to have sprung into full gear…]


  1. James

    I just wonder the tax dept. will ever listen to the general public. Do you think people will comply fully if they choose a good font or have a nice CSS? The tax system is suppose to be complicated so some accountant can make some money. The simplest tax form should only consists of two lines.
    1. How much money did you make?
    2. Send all of it to us.

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