Treasury committee presses HMRC again over outages

Treasury committee presses HMRC again over outages
REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

The Treasury committee has sent another letter to HM Revenue and Customs demanding answers after further reports emerged in early January about helpline outages.

The committee quoted a report from The Daily Telegraph in early January, which found taxpayers who called HMRC’s helpline were kept on hold for several hours before being cut off without speaking to a staff member. 

“Concerns have been expressed that HMRC’s working from home policy may have led to some of these issues,” said Harriett Baldwin, chair of the Treasury committee, yesterday (January 9).

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The January outage followed a disruption in early December, when the tax department’s website struggled to cope with an influx of people trying to use it.

Taxpayers experienced difficulty accessing basic services, which were running very slowly, and kept losing connection.

After the technical issues last month, Baldwin requested an urgent response from HMRC. The government department said it would carry out a “review of lessons from the incident”.

The Treasury committee has now asked to see this review, and asked HMRC a series of questions - including to what extent the reported concerns are linked to call centre staff working from home.

“These reports are seriously concerning, given that taxpayers are apparently unable to speak to HMRC by telephone as the 31 January online self-assessment deadline approaches,” said Baldwin.

“Our committee also awaits the outcome of HMRC’s review into December’s outages, in which 99,000 taxpayer calls were potentially missed. Lessons need to be learnt from these issues, and HMRC must learn them quickly.”

The tax department has said this is its busiest time of year, and is recommending people to use its online services before calling in.

Taxpayers have from April 6 until January 31 to file their Self-Assessment return for the previous financial year. Last year, just 66,000 taxpayers filed their tax return on April 6.

Baldwin has given HMRC until January 23 to reply with the findings of its review. She has also requested responses to the following questions:

1. Does HMRC recognise the concerns and issues reported in the press? 

2. Were demand and service levels in early January substantially different from the average? Please provide any supporting statistics such as call volumes, hold times and call length. 

3. To what extent are the reported concerns linked to call centre staff working from home? 

4. What steps did you take to resolve the reported concerns, and will you implement procedures to prevent such issues in the future? 

5. Were the reported concerns connected to the disruption to the online systems and telephone helplines that took place between 1 December and 5 December 2022?

A HMRC spokesperson said: “This is our busiest time of the year and we apologise to those waiting to speak to us. We strongly encourage customers to check online before calling. Many queries can be dealt with much more quickly through your Personal Tax Account or the HMRC app.”