HM Revenue & Customs  

HMRC accused of neglecting helpline in favour of online

HMRC accused of neglecting helpline in favour of online

The taxman is failing in its customer service standards as callers are now having to wait nearly eight minutes to speak to someone at HMRC.

HM Revenue and Customs’ monthly performance update, published yesterday (October 3), showed the average speed of answering a customer’s call in the four months to August was seven minutes and 47 seconds — significantly longer than the four minutes 51 seconds measured in the year to April.

HMRC’s target is to answer all calls within five minutes.

The findings also showed a hefty 37.6 per cent of those wanting to chat to the taxman had to wait more than 10 minutes, compared with last year’s 16.3 per cent, despite HMRC’s target standing at ‘no more than 15 per cent’.

The figures specifically for the month of August seemed more positive however, with the average speed of answering a call dropping to 6 minutes and only 26.1 per cent of customers waiting more than 10 minutes.

Almost nine in 10 (85.9 per cent) of advisers and customers who opted to use an iForm — HMRC’s project to put all its forms online to make them fully digital, which started in 2016 — received a response within seven days.

The digital aspect fared better than the post room, which saw 59.6 per cent of customer post sorted and responded to within 15 days and 78.7 per cent cleared with 40 days.

This is against HMRC’s own target of 80 per cent and 95 per cent respectively.

Despite falling short of its targets, customer satisfaction with HMRC’s digital services was on the up. It was measured at 79.9 per cent last year, nudging slightly up to 80.4 per cent for the year to date since April.

On a monthly basis, the number of complaints against the taxman fell in August — down from 5,673 in July to 4,581 — and was lower year-on-year by 26 per cent.

Guy Sterling, a tax partner at Moore Kingston Smith, thought HMRC’s increasing reliance on IT and other digital-led strategies had led to the long waits for customers and advisers.

He said: “It too often means that those worried about their tax find it unacceptably difficult to speak to a person, even by the taxman’s own targets.

“There are also concerns that taxpayers give up hanging on the telephone, with the figures not reflecting the number of taxpayers who hang up waiting for the call to be answered.”

An HMRC spokesperson said: "We are very sorry that many callers waited too long to get through to our helplines. We continue to take steps to improve the service and mange peaks in demand.

“We’ve introduced a range of popular digital services like webchat and online tax accounts so more customers are getting what they need without having to call us.

"But we know that some customers want to talk to us directly and we’re doing all we can to keep all waiting times as low as possible.”