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Do you agree it's HMRC policy for staff to lie?

Ethics of the gutter

Didn't find your answer?

The following is a text of an Agent Account Manager issue I raised yesterday:

"A routine corporation tax refund claim was submitted in June 2020. I
rang in November 2020 to be assured it had "been put on a worklist
for the next 2 weeks". I rang in January 2021 to be assured it had
"been put on a worklist for the next 2 weeks". Still not done. I now
believe it is HMRC policy to instruct staff to actually lie about refunds.
Dismal dismal dismal. The ethics of the gutter."

 

Replies (16)

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By Paul Crowley
17th Mar 2021 10:57

I have two long outstanding CIS tax refunds due
One is £10,000 other £3,000
Time to chase again

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By OldParkAcct
17th Mar 2021 11:00

I think the CT department have missed out on the HMRC change in attitude. VAT and personal tax refunds now appear within days for most clients, but CT refunds routinely take months.
My only suggestion, that has worked in the past, it to threaten to raise the delay with your local MP.

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By Duggimon
17th Mar 2021 11:07

I don't believe they lie as such, I think the people you are speaking to check it on their system and the system tells them it is on a worklist and will be done within two weeks. Then you shout at them and tell them they're useless, but all they can do is answer the phone, check the status and report what it says.

There is a complete barrier between the people you can speak to and the people who can do things and the communication between the two is limited to the point of complete ineffectiveness.

It's not exactly lying, they are correctly reporting the wrong information, because there is no way for them to report anything else.

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Replying to Duggimon:
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By murphy1
17th Mar 2021 11:19

Totally agree- computer says no! Most don't have a clue about tax. Then when you start complaining after being on hold for 30 mins, and 10 mins asking about the issue, becoming more annoyed, they hang up on you!

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Replying to murphy1:
By Duggimon
17th Mar 2021 12:39

Your anger is misplaced. You are angry at the HMRC system whereby they have employees employed to take calls but do not train them on tax, they only train them on searching the gov.uk website, or looking up returns etc on their internal system, depending on your query.

This is ineffective for answering your problem and you respond to them with annoyance, but it's hardly their fault. They are not inept, they are not a bad person, they haven't decided to withhold the answer out of spite, they don't wish you ill, they probably even want to help you and will do whatever they can in order to help.

The issue is that people you have no hope of finding, or of speaking to, have decided that the people you can speak to will be employed only to speak to you and will not be trained on doing all the things you might want them to do, because that's expensive and difficult and the most efficient allocation of resources is to have low skilled workers answer the huge volume of calls and higher skilled workers doing the behind the scenes stuff and to limit as much as possible the ability of one group to talk to the other.

On the one hand, this definitely causes the service provided by HMRC to decline massively when you poll accountants who call HMRC. However, and this is a massive however, most of the people who call HMRC are not accountants. Most of the calls the call centres get result in success. More low skilled workers are better than less high skilled workers because they can answer more calls and, averaging across everyone who calls in, there is only a small drop in quality.

There is no point having someone who is able to deal with a misplaced loss carry back while you're on the phone, or advise on the allowability of specific expenses, tell 45 people what their UTR is.

Now, I agree, this is immensely frustrating, and is still something HMRC could change. The ADL for SA was a step in the right direction, now unfortunately rescinded, though hopefully it'll return. In the mean time, it's only good manners to remember that the person on the other end of the phone is no more responsible for the failings of the system than you yourself are. I'm sure they would much prefer to be able to solve all the problems they get handed, but they can't, and it's through no fault of their own. So keep it polite, get as much info as you can and accept that some things still just have to be fixed by letters, because the people who actually do things do get those.

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Replying to Duggimon:
Tornado
By Tornado
17th Mar 2021 13:04

I think what you saying is that there needs to be a dedicated helpline manned by staff that are better trained to deal with Accountants and similar and who do have access to more than the run of the mill helpline staff.

Now that is a great idea and I wonder why such a service is not available already at the moment!

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Replying to Tornado:
By Duggimon
17th Mar 2021 14:38

Tornado wrote:

I think what you saying is that there needs to be a dedicated helpline manned by staff that are better trained to deal with Accountants and similar and who do have access to more than the run of the mill helpline staff.

Now that is a great idea and I wonder why such a service is not available already at the moment!

I have experience managing a call centre and this is literally the most basic structure employed by nearly everyone, I don't know why HMRC don't do it. You have first line support who answer all the calls, and second line support who mostly work back end but also take the more difficult calls about things it's impractical to train everyone to do.

You can't dial second line directly, but you can get connected to them pretty quickly if first line can determine it's something they can't fix.

Instead, HMRC only have first line, everyone else takes no calls and all the first line can do is send one way communications onwards, there's next to no feedback so they can't tell you what will happen next.

The Agent Dedicated Line was a sort of 1.5 line support, better than the general line but still limited in their system access, there needs to be some crossover between the people who do things and the people you can talk to if anything more complex than simple queries is ever going to get resolved over the phone.

HOWEVER, the issue is that HMRC do not operate in a marketplace. They have no competition. They have no reason to seek to improve anything that isn't hampering their own operation. If the problems we have with the phones significantly impeded the collection of tax, they would fix it. But it doesn't, so they won't. My call centre had contractual obligations over call wait times and first call fixes (maximum 30 second average and 80% respectively, imagine HMRC had that!) - HMRC just need to exist and do what they can so long as people can still pay their tax.

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Replying to Duggimon:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
17th Mar 2021 14:33

I quite agree. The system is the issue.

The actual staff can sometimes be openly apologetic about not being able to help you. I am always nice to them until they prove otherwise. If they are actively obstructive (as opposed to simply being unable to help) that is a different matter.

Be nice and they will do all they can to help. Has resolved problems I was expecting to be more trouble sometimes.

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Replying to Duggimon:
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By dul50n
18th Mar 2021 16:56

Duggimon wrote:

So keep it polite, get as much info as you can and accept that some things still just have to be fixed by letters, because the people who actually do things do get those.

Which address are you using because they just ignore my letters?

My standard routine now is one normal letter of request, followed by a Tier 1 complaint request, followed by a Tier 2 complaint request, followed by waiting for a complaints officer to respond, followed by an invoice to the client to cover our time, followed by submitting a T16A form with a copy of the invoice and proof of payment, followed by a compensation payment to the client

This can take a good six months or more to come to fruition, but I see it as my duty to raise a complaint every single time HMRC fails to act in a reasonable, timely, fashion. If enough people did the same thing something would change to stop the leak from the public purse.

As for the people who actually do things, in my experience they increasingly do things incorrectly and if HMRC shelter these poor performers behind a cannon fodder line of telephone operatives then they will get abused.

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Replying to murphy1:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
17th Mar 2021 13:38

@Muphy1, well apart from "what Duggimon said"

one tip I have is ALWAYS be as sweet as pie to the operators, no matter how clueless. By all means if you know they are talking bobbins suggest they double check it, and most of the time they will correct themselves having just looked it up. But always be sympathetic to the appalling systems within which they work. I get the impression they can see little more than we can.

Its a rubbish job on low wages, the least you can do is be nice about it. On the plus side they often do things they probably should not if you are nice.....

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By legerman
17th Mar 2021 14:24

ireallyshouldknowthisbut wrote:

@Muphy1, well apart from "what Duggimon said"

one tip I have is ALWAYS be as sweet as pie to the operators, no matter how clueless. By all means if you know they are talking bobbins suggest they double check it, and most of the time they will correct themselves having just looked it up. But always be sympathetic to the appalling systems within which they work. I get the impression they can see little more than we can.

Its a rubbish job on low wages, the least you can do is be nice about it. On the plus side they often do things they probably should not if you are nice.....

Totally agree. To be fair, even with general staff now taking agent calls, I've found them reasonably good (nothing complicated)

I always make a pint of thanking them for their help. They must have to deal witrh some carp, so compliments go a long way imo.

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By paul.benny
17th Mar 2021 11:23

Just like all of us here, I believe that most of the time, most HMRC staff are doing the best they reasonably can. Sometimes, perhaps often, they make promises that aren't delivered.

Do I think they deliberately lie or do so as a matter of policy? I find the question in the OP offensive. How would it be if I were to ask if it's the policy of MrMischief & Co to lie to their clients?

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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
17th Mar 2021 11:31

Happens in all walks of life, and all the more so in the current climate.

We've been waiting six or seven months for a telegraph pole so we can switch from wireless internet. The sight of Openreach engineers changing a pole not far away prompted us to email a chaser to Openreach in February.

Yesterday we received a telephone call from Openreach to say they cannot trace our order (in spite of our providing details of when and with which Openreach engineer we signed it); and they're are unable to contact their engineer who pegged it all out and then took that order away (in spite of our providing his name, email address, confirmation texts, and mobile phone number). We were instructed to go back to Vodafone for them to instigate an order for their engineer to call and survey, following which Openreach will send a surveyor to measure up; after which another Openreach surveyor will drive a peg in the ground where the pole will go and take away a signed order (in spite of our sending a snap of the peg in the ground that's been there since last August).

Lies? Well certainly a thin and unlikely series of well practised cover-stories: lost order, DPA issues, cannot contact engineer, anyone might have driven that big yellow Openreach peg into the ground. Now f*** off back to Vodafone and start all over again!

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By whitevanman
17th Mar 2021 12:05

As has been said by Dug, the problem is that the people you can speak to are not able to do the work and simply tell you what it says on their screen.
Lots of stuff gets put onto work lists, some relatively unimportant, others much more so. There is a "team" who deal with such matters but it is probable that they have been re-deployed onto covid related work (SEISS etc) and someone, who doesn't understand, decided work lists are unimportant. Eventually the truth of that assessment will come to light but probably not in the next 2 weeks. Perhaps a complaint with a request to escalate it as a wider problem will bring a result for all (eventually). No breath holding if you want to survive!

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By 356B
17th Mar 2021 12:06

Welcome to 2021. Covid excuses notwithstanding, it was ever thus.

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By mbee1
17th Mar 2021 14:50

it seems to me that the only way to resolve any "dispute" with HMRC is to complain to the client's MP. It's even better if they're a cabinet minister or The Speaker where my last two complaints were addressed to. I got a response to both cases within two days with the disputes being cleared up to my and the clients satisfaction.

Agreed you shouldn't have to do this but sometimes it's the only way. It's not about winning and losing although I do feel smug when I get a response in the way I wanted.

The problem with HMRC is that the person who answers the phone is just that - a telephonist. They can deal with simple queries about when a repayment might be issued or a tax code change but anything more complex they have to send to the Service Office who'll get back to you in 5 days. That doesn't happen and you have to start all over again and it is extremely frustrating.

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