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HMRC's silent treatment bucks social media callouts | AccountingWEB | Image of a person shouting at a screen

HMRC's silent treatment bucks social media callouts


Jake Smith’s recent holiday nightmare illustrates the incredible influence of social media in giving the customer a voice. Yet, it’s a different story when dealing with HMRC. 

7th Sep 2023
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So, the HMRC self assessment helpline has reopened after being closed for three months. I don’t envy the HMRC staff having to answer those calls when they have to deal with the backlog of potentially angry and frustrated taxpayers who have been unable to get their queries dealt with. 

However, as a self assessment taxpayer (sorry I mean customer!) of HMRC myself, getting an email in late May telling me to start doing my tax return only a few weeks before the helpline closed does seem rather misguided.

Fortunately, we have a long-suffering accountant who helps us with our self assessments so I don’t have to worry too much about HMRC and the challenges of its online systems. But the stories of hour-long waits and people being directed to GOV.UK and then cut off are all too common.

When things go wrong with a service or a product, it’s frustrating, but usually what’s important is how the business or service provider responds to problems. If issues are swiftly resolved and the customer is not out of pocket and feels they’ve been treated like a person rather than a number, that can actually lead to increased satisfaction and more loyal clients. 

Most people accept that mistakes can happen, but how those mistakes are dealt with can show a lot about whether they are a company you want to continue to deal with. 

Sadly, it’s not a choice whether or not you deal with HMRC and it seems there is not a lot you can do about things if they go wrong.

Good service is how you react to problems

I was reminded of this on our recent holiday, when as can often happen, not everything went perfectly to plan. 

It was a long-haul trip for a family of four and we’d booked most of the travel and accommodation ourselves as we usually do. We do this to save money and give us more flexibility, but obviously, the trade-off is that there is more admin to deal with than if I used a travel agent. 

Because there are more moving parts if something needs to change or goes wrong it’s down to us to sort it out. This can take a frustratingly long time when you’d rather be lounging by the pool or beach or doing something more fun than dealing with complaints or refunds.

Most of the trip went really smoothly, well as smoothly as can be expected when travelling with two teenagers! However, there were a couple of flight delays and one hotel that when we arrived we discovered that they had neglected to mention the noisy and intrusive building works that were only one metre from our room and blocked all our light with scaffolding, allowing builders to see into every room!

Getting the hotel to agree to let us cancel our stay and give a refund was fairly simple. It was also easy enough to find a new hotel through an online site. Luckily, the online site I’d booked the original hotel through was pretty good at dealing with the refund, after an hour or so on the online chat. Overall, I was impressed with all the people I dealt with, and though I wish it hadn’t happened it’s not made me think that I wouldn’t want to use any of them again. 

Bad service is something you don’t forget

On the other hand, the previous family holiday we had 10 months ago was a very different story. The airline (who I shall not name here) managed to wreck the end of our holiday and took nearly 10 months to sort out compensation and repay the additional expenses we incurred due to them cancelling our return flight when we were actually on the runway about to take off! 

The whole experience from the flight cancellation, lack of information or help at the airport, a 24-hour delay, being flown back to a different airport and having to pay out for an extra night at a hotel and numerous taxis was awful. But that was child’s play compared with having to try and deal with a seemingly deliberately incompetent complaints system that seemed only to be able to send automated messages ignoring anything I sent them was like some crazed Gordian knot. 

It took more than 30 emails and hours on the phone going around in circles, with people who didn’t have English as their first language telling me to submit another email and then sending yet another automated response ignoring all my questions. Eventually, it seems that the only thing that finally worked was complaining repeatedly on Twitter and tagging the airline, though even this approach took multiple attempts. 

Although I eventually got the compensation and expenses that I was entitled to, the experience was horrendous and I very much doubt I would ever willingly fly with the airline again.

One possible lesson here is that if I’d had an agent maybe they would have been able to sort this all for me, and I might also consider using a flight delay specialist to manage a claim if it happens again. But more likely I’ll just never choose to fly with the airline again and will advise all my friends and family members to avoid them too.

The power of a public complaint

Social media can be a powerful tool; no business likes to be publicly called out for terrible service and getting things wrong. There have been a number of examples on AccountingWEB recently of businesses being named and shamed by accountants for poor client management, poor handling of price increases, or just poor service. Usually, when these are splashed across social media and places like our Any Answers forum, you’ll fairly quickly see a representative of the business get involved and try to sort things out for the unhappy customer. 

HMRC seems to be a sad exception to this rule, although it seems to be trying to force everyone online for all their services, the tax department doesn’t appear to take any responsibility when those services aren’t fit for purpose. 

Although they are quick to impose fines and penalties on people who fall foul of their rules, even when they may not actually owe any tax as Rebecca Cave highlighted recently.

But what can their ‘customers’ do about it? Very little it seems, other than keep our fingers crossed that things get better in the future. Here’s hoping! 


Replies (10)

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By GHarr497688
07th Sep 2023 15:22

They could write to the Local MP plus complain to HMRC and then add a comment on Trustpiolet. Also they can request compemsation if the case is strong . A united front is needed.

Thanks (2)
Replying to GHarr497688:
By Mr J Andrews
08th Sep 2023 10:15

Agreed. Things aren't going to improve whilst there's no accountability under the incumbent CEO.
Poor, inferior and downright unacceptable service - which is what HMRC has become - shouldn't be tolerated by its'customers'. The Revenue won't bite if a formal complaint, coupled with a reasonable claim for compensation is made owing to their shoddiness and couldn't give a damn attitude.
Sadly this approach will only set the 'service' back to even lower depths.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Mr J Andrews:
By WallyGandy
08th Sep 2023 15:09

Any correspondence whatsoever re HMRC constant errors is a "Formal Complaint" in red (and on envelope) stating that if no satisfaction within 15 working days (HMRC 80% target) then it's Tier 1. And I mean that..... Sent 2 such letters today. Gloves are off- no respect for HMRC at all.

Thanks (0)
Replying to GHarr497688:
Jake Smith, AccountingWEB
By Jake Smith
08th Sep 2023 10:37

Writing to your local MP is probably the best solution for trying to get things improved with HMRC I agree. I didn't talk about it in this column but I had a terrible experience trying to renew my Son's passport a couple of years ago during the worst of the post-COVID backlogs at the Passport Office. Writing to my local MP seemed to help in getting it sorted.

I'm not sure that HMRC would pay much attention to TrustPilot, or any other social platform for complaints!

Thanks (4)
By jackmacdonald
08th Sep 2023 11:57

HMRC do not pick up the phone in 16 minutes, more like over an hour experience tells me, if they do at all with sorry we cannot answer your call. Web chat is where you wait in the belief they will respond in the same day, they don't. Letters go into the ether with no response. Tried MP 2 times, worked both, HMRC phoned me, had to be carefull as I thought they were hoax calls at first.

Thanks (0)
By Tornado
08th Sep 2023 12:12

I cannot wait for the time when I can get my AI to talk to their AI and then I only get involved when they come to an agreement.

Thanks (2)
By markabacus
08th Sep 2023 12:31

Tried Webchat, 30 mins going round in circles before giving up and ringing the agent helpline, fortunately only 5 or so mins on hold then sorted in 2 mins

Next call to the agent helpline, 45mins on hold but I was assured my call was important to them so along with the beautiful music on hold aaaaaaaagh that's ok NOT

We're taxpayers, HMRC prefer to call us CUSTOMERS but as we can't move our business elsewhere maybe PRISONERS would be more appropriate? LOL

Thanks (2)
Replying to markabacus:
By Tornado
10th Sep 2023 15:21

I was assured my call was important to them

Such a blatent lie. If our calls were really important to them, they would make a big effort to answer them quickly and efficiently. None of my clients ever created a successful business by treating their CUSTOMERS with the sort of contempt that HMRC treat us with.

Thanks (1)
By Ian McTernan CTA
08th Sep 2023 13:51

The picture neatly sums up social media: everyone is easily offended:-)

As for being called 'customers', it still winds me up. 'Customer' implies a choice...

Thanks (1)
Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
Jason Piper
By Jason Piper
18th Sep 2023 18:58

My other half recently received one of their "customer satisfaction" surveys in the post.
"I don't know why they've sent me this," she said, "I'm not a customer, all I do is fill in my tax return once a year."

Thanks (0)