HMRC helpline staff can 'rarely give a proper reply'

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HM Revenue and Customs helpline staff are "simply not properly trained to do the job" in most cases, and can rarely give a proper reply to a question, according to two major tax bodies.

In a joint response to HMRC's consultation paper, Working towards a new relationship: a consultation on priorities for reducing the administrative burden of the tax system on small business, the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Association of Taxation Technicians severely criticised the way HMRC communicates with businesses and their advisers.

They suggested that priority is given to three "core areas" of flexible payment arrangements, communication with HRMC, and inspections and enquiries.

TaxZone has invited HMRC to comment on the submission.

Review of communications is 'absolutely imperative'


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05th Aug 2005 08:06

not a choice
C'mon Nick, like most others, I was already married before I became professionally involved with HMRC. I'm not about to divorce my partner & try to find a tax expert sufficiently humanoid to marry just to improve my service to clients!

Seriously though, it's true that if you once find a qualified, experienced and helpful official on the phone you should try to form a personal relationship quickly. Then, even if they move to another post, they will often tell you who to speak to for a problem you're trying to solve, if it's not their area.

It shouldn't have to be like this though.

Golden rule is, once you have their personal mobile number, you might stand a chance....

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11th Jul 2005 09:25

Ex-colleagues help
I didn't mention that I am ex-Revenue (some 15 years on now), I still socialise with my contacts (two are in the same cycling club) and that one of them is my wife! But without this I agree that except for the most simple query (assuming the phone lines aren't engaged) phoning R&C call centres is useless.

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04th Jul 2005 22:14

You can get to speak to someone can you?!!
I now always use the "practitioners" phone number and as such have found that my queries are dealt with courteously and effectively. You can never ever get through using the usual "call centre" number - the line is permanently engaged. The "practitioners" line is also sometimes engaged for long periods of time.

I tested the numbers a couple of weeks ago - a client of mine owed about £500. She is elderly and the Revenue were chasing for payment(she had sold a business at a massive loss and the £500 was an amount left over to pay). She now only lives on the state pension and a small gratuity. She had been receiving incorrect demands for payment for weeks and became very distressed so I promised to speak to the Revenue and ask for payment by instalments etc and at least agreement as to the correct amount to pay. I started ringing the number for Bristol at 9.15am and tried again every 20 minutes until late afternoon when I gave up and called the practitioners line. If I could not get through how is any member of the taxpaying public supposed to?

When I eventually got through I moaned about the constant engaged tone and was advised that just that week the Bristol office had trained over 80 additional persons to answer the phones - fine but if there are not enough lines in the 1st place???!!

By the way - the end of the story is that I was told to put my request in writing (I had already done so but did again) I headed the letter URGENT and said that my client was distressed about the lack of understanding and action. I received a response with a revised demand exactly six weeks later.

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30th Jun 2005 08:06

I have dealt with investigations for nearly forty years and the training of Inspectors has certainly changed in the last five maybe longer.
Most Inspectors now are geared to obtaining the "most" instead of the "right" amount of tax and then once everything is agreed you get the "bank manager" approach - of course I'll have to agree it with my manager. Twice lately I have agreed a figure with the inspector only to be told the manager wants a further meeting, obviously to explore areas where he has felt the Inspector has given in. In doing so he has ignored that most "agreements" are normally a "package".
I have always advocated that it should be part of Accountants and Inspectors training that they spend at least six months as a swop exercise.

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30th Jun 2005 10:37

Weeks not years of training
We are talking about call centre staff here not Inspectors.

The people who answer the phones in the call centres have only weeks of training in tax, not years, and rely almost entirely on what the screen in front of them says. At nearly every Working Together meeting I have attended someone brings up the topic of the service provided by the call centre, which has not been able to give an adequate answer to a question, or even worse has provided a client with a nonsense answer.

I am pleased to see the CIOT taking a strong line on this. Its about time they shouted about the problems the HMRC working methods cause for thier members.
Rebecca Cave

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30th Jun 2005 12:00

Reply to Neil
Before the advent of the call centre you would either call the office dealing with the client's affairs cold and then get transferred to the correct department, or have a name in a particular department who you knew would deal with the matter efficiently. The wealth of knowledge in a local district is immense and there would usually be someone who could deal with the query. In my local office I still communicate with 5 officers who between them have 140 years of experience in various areas of the Inland Revenue be it PAYE, investigations, receiveables, schedule D, CT, end of year, tax technical, shares valuation or joint shadow economy, to name a few.

It is a shame that this knowledge base is not used to provide the service the taxpayer and our profession expect and deserve.

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By NeilW
30th Jun 2005 09:33

It's hardly surprising given the complexity of the tax system. I'm not even sure it is possible in many cases to give a 'right' answer, just a 'not wrong' answer!


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