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Accountancy profession to be hit by quiet quitting

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The media is convinced that quiet quitting is going to the next big thing. This could be bad news for an under-staffed profession.

10th Nov 2022
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The media seems to have decided that the next big thing is 'quiet quitting'. Some might even wonder whether the media has invented quiet quitting as a way to fill some empty columns.

In fact, was apparently originally a TikTok phenomenon that is now spreading more widely and, having garnered the publicity, might eventually become self-fulfilling.

What is quiet quitting?

For those that have not yet come across this provocative new concept, a good starting point might be the Wikipedia definition.

“Quiet quitting is an application of work-to-rule, in which employees work within defined work hours and engage in work-related activities solely within those hours.”

The first observation from many in the upper reaches of the profession is that they would be really happy if some staff members managed to engage solely in work-related activities during contracted hours.

There was a recent survey suggesting that whether an individual is working from home or the office, they will spend far too many working hours for which they are paid indulging in extraneous activities.

Working-to-rule in accountancy

We have all been in offices where staff seemed more concerned about social chitchat than tax audit compliance, while the ubiquitous coffee and fag breaks often extended to the point where one almost met the next.

The leading distraction these days is inevitably keeping up with social media accountsPutting that to one side, while quiet quitting might be a new term, anyone who has worked in the profession for any reasonable length of time will recall colleagues who, while being less explicit about the practice, effectively operated it.

They fall into a number of categories. First, there are members of support staff whose work is so mundane that they could not reasonably be expected to go above and beyond what they are paid for.

Some junior members of staff ie the TikTok generation who are not yet used to office life might also assume, not unreasonably, that if they have signed a document stating they will work between the hours of nine and five then why do anything more?

The other category of employee who has typically assumed that it was standard practice to work fixed hours was those trained within the tax department.

Working in the public sector typically meant they were paid significantly less than those doing roughly equivalent work in firms of accountants but, as a quid pro quo, worked flexible hours and those were firmly fixed. This meant that you had colleagues who claimed to start at 7am or earlier and were gone in time to pick up the kids from school, disappearing soon after some colleagues returned from lunch.

That brings us to another issue particular to the professions. Typically, once someone achieves a relatively low level of seniority, round about assistant manager depending upon the size of the firm, they might get a nice bump up in basic pay but will lose the right to paid overtime and quite possibly pay off in lieu of working excessive hours. This is not a great way to encourage people to do that extra bit to boost profits.

As long as the work is done

While some might disagree, this accountant has always been of the view that if the work got done there was very little point in hanging around for the sake of it.

Indeed, in some offices where there is a culture of working ludicrously long hours, the same amount of work is done in a much longer period, with the rest of the time spent chatting, socialising and working on those ubiquitous social media accounts.

There is also a strong argument promoting the view that people who put in shorter hours of work are more efficient, effective, and make fewer mistakes.

All of this goes against the culture of being available to clients 24/7, which is becoming more prevalent but really should be discouraged, since it is bad for our health and sanity.

Will this become an issue for the profession?

The big question is whether quiet quitting is likely to become an issue in the profession. Given that it is almost impossible to recruit staff at the moment, if you do come across someone who is willing to take a job but insistent on operating to fixed hours, there may be little choice but to accept them with open arms.

This will create a precedent that others might wish to follow and that may just be life. On the other hand, in that so many accountants now work from home for the majority of their time, it is possible that nobody will actually notice if they work-to-rule.

Even offices are becoming sparsely populated and, given the move to open plan, it may be quite possible for the occasional slacker to disappear without trace and nobody actually notice.

A tangential point that we need to recognise is implicit in the media’s other new buzz term “the great resignation”. There are suggestions that the profession (and many others) is suffering from a large exodus of staff, either through illness, retirement or fancying a break.

In that context, an underperforming staff member might be a lot better than an empty desk but that is a topic for another day.

This topic will continue at AccountingWEB Live Expo on 30 November - 1 December. In a panel discussion, Lucy Cohen, alongside accountants Shona Barker, Gordon Berry, Rachel Martin and ACAS's Emma Slaven will explore wellbeing in the workplace and  as part of that conversation will look at workplace productivity. Register now for your free ticket. 

Replies (41)

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By Crouchy
10th Nov 2022 13:00

correct me if wrong but isn't quiet quitting more about staff only working hours they are paid for and only doing work they are paid for, its nothing to do with flexible hours and work practices

its a middle finger to employers and managers who don't appreciate staff who have done more than their job description entials, have gone the extra mile to get something done and then not been rewarded or recognised for it

I'm a big believer in paying people what they are worth, and many are quite rightly saying no to being taken advantage of. why would a senior do the work the of a manager to only get paid as a senior for example

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Replying to Crouchy:
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By listerramjet
11th Nov 2022 11:06

There is usually a fairly large gap between what individuals think they are being paid for, and what partner think they are paying for!

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By Mr_awol
11th Nov 2022 11:08

I thought quiet quitting was not only putting in nothing extra, but also putting in minimal effort and taking it easy when you were actually at work - but staying just below the threshold of actionable behaviour.

Or, as they call it in the public sector, "going to work".

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By norstar
10th Nov 2022 15:32

I'm not sure I agree with this article, which to me seems out of touch.

For my own tuppence worth, most of my staff work more or less to their contracted hours and I actively discourage their working or checking emails when they are on leave or outside work. Everyone needs a break and it only takes one email from "that person" to ruin a day.

I find that these days (and with the advance in instant communication, emails on phones etc), it's more important than ever to draw the line with clients and manage expectations. If you give an inch, they will take a mile. We have slowed down our email comms rather than instant sending because otherwise, clients will hold an entire conversation with one line emails.

I also won't tolerate HMRC's ludicrous deadlines, taking months to reply to a letter and then specifying a response within 14 days - having taken 7 of them to post the letter to us. Despite this they continue to foist unrealistic deadlines on us all. First CGT (now extended to 60 days) but they also seem to be pushing MTD for ITSA within 30 days each quarter.

To me "quiet quitting" sounds an awful lot like "not putting up with HMRC's or client's nonsense" and standing firm. It's already miserable enough dealing with HMRC and ungrateful clients who expect more, quicker than ever and at lower fees. We don't need to do it until 10pm on a Sunday as well. With MTD, it will be even more important to stand firm because otherwise, we will all end up quite mad and time poor.

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By JustAnotherUser
10th Nov 2022 15:58

"Some might even wonder whether the media has invented quiet quitting as a way to fill some empty columns."

Oh the irony of this article.

An American term created to shame worked for doing their job and not working for free, a buzz word not worthy of any column inches.

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By Hugo Fair
10th Nov 2022 18:34

100% agreed - although irony is underselling the chutzpah of the journalists (or was it management consultants?) who coined the meaningless phrase.

Call it what it is ... work-to-rule - which is always the result of staff being bullied into believing that they 'are not team-minded / pulling their weight' unless they do oodles of unpaid work without complaint.

My first encounter with that type of management was way back in 1971 (so hardly a new fad).
As an ambitious young trainee I frequently stayed on 'til 7:00pm (helping the manager with odd tasks that weren't even part of my job role) despite my hours being 09:00-17:30.
And then the day arrived when I needed to leave at 6:00pm ... result = a public bollocking about my attitude and lack of commitment (despite me still doing 1/2 hour of unpaid extra work)!
So I explained that from now on he could set his watch by my arrival & departure times every day (and started polishing my CV).

The real irony is that I know I learned a lot from the experience - but very much doubt that the manager did.

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By kdbr
10th Nov 2022 16:13

There was me thinking it was what was going to happen to many of us with the start of MTD... what used to be called retiral.

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By Postingcomments
10th Nov 2022 16:50

Semi retirement for me next year. Not much value in adding more to savings, so I'll earn what I spend - maybe even a bit less since I'll be getting some dividends and interest. Shove your 25% CT. I'm not paying it.

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Replying to Postingcomments:
By Nick Graves
11th Nov 2022 12:57

Postingcomments wrote:

Semi retirement for me next year. Not much value in adding more to savings, so I'll earn what I spend - maybe even a bit less since I'll be getting some dividends and interest. Shove your 25% CT. I'm not paying it.

My approach entirely!

I ain't working for The Man no more.

In the words of the song, You can shove your tax rates up your...

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By Hugo Fair
10th Nov 2022 18:52

The young work-to-rule merchants (who prefer the polite if meaningless label of them as having quietly resigned) really are SO far behind the curve compared to previous generations.

In the late 80s I did a brief stint in a specialist division of what was then the NatWest.
But I found I could never get a meeting with one of the IT specialists whose input I needed ... his desk was always covered in papers and his suit jacket was cast over the back of his chair, but he never responded to my messages.
So I took my usual course of action - go and talk to the people who really know what's going on (the office maintenance guys) ... and discovered the real world.
The IT guy had bought a cruiser in a poor state of repair - and was spending every day down in the docks working on the boat (visiting the office during the evening once a week to shuffle the papers and replace the jacket with another one)!

No need for resignation, quiet or otherwise ... he retained all the benefits of his employment (pay) with none of the downsides (work) - and did so for the best part of 9 months.

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By Postingcomments
11th Nov 2022 09:29

Older gen had it pretty sweet.

No emails - So people sent a letter and didn't expect a reply for a month. Dictating a few letters per day is much less mental load than writing a couple of dozen emails and taking calls about the ones you sent yesterday. More to keep on your mind.

Lots of smoke breaks, liquid lunches - if senior enough, a posh dining room then spend the afternoon dozing and chasing your secretary round the office. Tea and cake trollies.

Lots of companies had social clubs and facilities for after work and weekends. Big companies even owned country hotels for cheap staff holidays.

Probably loads of other things, but I wouldn't know because I wasn't there.

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Replying to Postingcomments:
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By listerramjet
11th Nov 2022 11:10

I would suggest that most emails, and most of the content of all emails, is just pointless noise. We certainly have "better" technology, but we have yet to work out how to use it effectively!

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By DJKL
16th Nov 2022 16:56

No smoke breaks, I originally smoked at my desk whilst working. in the 80s.

We also did not help ourselves to coffees, there were set times morning and afternoon when the junior carried a tray into the room and handed them around, nobody apart from the lowest of the low got to stop work to make coffee. (Though I did also get sent out to buy 200 cigarettes for the senior partner when he ran out)

Re letter writing far worse than emails, you had all of them reviewed by a partner before they got posted, you had to proof the drafts, often more than once and if you missed something which the typists had also missed (the typists really were your friend ) you got a bollocking.

Accounts even worse, reading them across a desk to proof/correct, again miss something you got a ........... though usually from a manager not the partner.

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By TB93
11th Nov 2022 10:32

I was expecting 'Quiet Quitting' to be something to do with leaving a job. Who would've thought it has nothing to do with quitting but actually means working within your contracted hours?!

What an awful article Philip.

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By Catherine Newman
15th Nov 2022 17:34

I agree. It was pointless.

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By Miller Robinson
11th Nov 2022 10:40

1

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By dwgw
11th Nov 2022 12:21

The post to which I was replying has been deleted.

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By Twickers Call
11th Nov 2022 10:48

this MTD for income tax is causing severe disturbance to the profession. So much paper work and deadlines will destroy the accountancy profession which is more important to rectify our declining economy.
I am sad and sorry for our country future.

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By wyoming
11th Nov 2022 10:50

Are "fag breaks" still a thing? Don't think there are even any smokers where I work! But thanks for the confirmation that "quiet quitting" is simply what we used to call "working to rule"!

Most of us are OK with putting in extra hours at busy times, as long as the employer is flexible at other times. Unlike some colleagues, I have always stuck to "when I'm working, I'm working and when I'm not, I'm not". So I steadfastly refuse to have work emails etc sent to any personal devices and it doesn't seem to have marked me out as a trouble maker! My only concession is agreeing to be in an office WhatsApp group on the understanding that this is only used out-of-hours in a dire emergency. We've had it 3 years, and I think I have only had to deal with an out-of-hours message once - so if my employer doesn't "take the proverbial", I'm far more amenable to working longer hours when needed. Simple really.

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Replying to wyoming:
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By User deleted
13th Nov 2022 15:19

wyoming wrote:

Are "fag breaks" still a thing? Don't think there are even any smokers where I work!

The modern generation are more likely taking pills or sniffing white powder, and smoking cannabis once they get home.

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By Ruddles
13th Nov 2022 16:58

Sounds like you’ve been sniffing glue. Time for you to leave No 11.

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Replying to Ruddles:
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By User deleted
14th Nov 2022 09:53

You seem to have an obsessive desire to post abusive responses to my comments. I was warned that newcomers were regularly subjected to your abuse. Perhaps it's time you got psychiatric treatment.

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By Brodders
11th Nov 2022 10:54

"Given that it is almost impossible to recruit staff at the moment..." - maybe accountancy firms need to ask the question "Why?" it is almost impossible? Out of touch with modern working practices for some firms? Paying people decently and treating them well never goes out of fashion and i suspect those firms aren't finding it "almost impossible" at all

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By Ammie
11th Nov 2022 10:58

It is concerning that working excessive hours beyond agreed hours has become normalised and expected. If the employee does waste time on non work matters in work time then they should make up the time. In exceptional circumstances working longer hours to meet targets would not be an issue and would be easier to accept if recognised by the employer, but not to the extent that it is expected everyday.

I remember years ago doing a job with an obscenly short time budget because the previous year the employee did most of it in non chargeable time in search for "brownie points" and only the chargeable time was costed. Those were the days, office politics and employee conflict!

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By Paul Barclay
11th Nov 2022 11:09

I think there is also something called "Quiet Firing" where employers aren't interested in their staff, no salary reviews, training etc. They can't really complain when staff do the minimum required and then leave - but I am sure they do.

Clearly there are exceptions, there are always amazing companies, bosses and employees out there unfortunately we rarely hear about them.

As with a number of responders here, I have worked stupid hours in the past, which is then expected with no recognition. I certainly don't do it anymore but the job gets done. Am I a "quiet quitter" or just someone who has realised that life can be great outside of work?

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Replying to Paul Barclay:
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By rockallj
16th Nov 2022 15:07

As with a number of responders here, I have worked stupid hours in the past, which is then expected with no recognition. I certainly don't do it anymore but the job gets done. Am I a "quiet quitter" or just someone who has realised that life can be great outside of work?

[/quote]

Yep I did enough of that & was relieved to walk away permanently from that dreadful employer.

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By Slippy
11th Nov 2022 11:31

It's not 'quiet quitting', it's called acting your wage!

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By Min
11th Nov 2022 12:02

I don’t understand the point this article is trying to make.

On the one hand it acknowledges that being available to clients 24/7 is bad for our sanity, yet simultaneously seems to call out those who effectively take steps to avoid this encroachment by working their contracted hours.

I’ve worked in the profession for 20 years and given countless unpaid hours at busy times of the year to help the team / firm; almost an unwritten / unspoken expectation that I and others would do this. It’s just not right.

Quiet quitting? In my book it’s called being fair.

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By indomitable
11th Nov 2022 14:59

The UK accounting professions as a whole wants to be careful.

Because I found it hard to recruit appropriate staff, I have outsourced a good portion of it overseas.

I will continue to do this if I cannot find suitable staff that are motivated, qualified and willing to work.

So go ahead and 'quiet quit' you may find that your job is no longer there

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Replying to indomitable:
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By Paul Barclay
14th Nov 2022 10:45

No problem with that - if you aren't interested in your staff and don't appreciate them why would they want to work for you anyway?

Not just the accounting industry though, I think you will find the same is true in most walks of life these days.

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By meadowsaw227
15th Nov 2022 09:52

I don't think I would keep many clients if they knew I had their work processed in foreign "sweat shops" ! .

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By Ian McTernan CTA
11th Nov 2022 15:27

I think this stems from expectations from both the firm and the employee.

The employee expects to be paid for time spent in the office, whether they are actually working or not.

The employer expects the employee to work as efficiently as possible whilst in the office.

It is expected of more senior employees (who have more of a stake in the business sometimes) that during busy periods you will be working and charging longer hours to help the company. If you are in one of those positions, then it is up to you to negotiate your package accordingly. The problem is that they then try and impose this on more junior employees, who don't have so much of a stake in the game.

Employers need to set clear boundaries and be seen as a good place to work. They need to be upfront about busy periods and point out that employees will be rewarded appropriately.

Employers also need to ensure they are getting the most out of their employees- you can fairly quickly tell who is cracking on and getting the work done and who has their feet up browsing the internet, especially in the accounting world, by the amount of work they produce.

I first ran into 'quiet quitting' in HMRC (in my one year there) when told in no uncertain terms (including by my immediate boss) that I was working too hard and needed to slow down!

The other issue is to measure what someone produces, not how long it takes. As others have pointed out, someone might spend half their day checking social media and still be producing more than the person who sits at their desk all day producing very little.

Accountancy firms need to realise they must pay to get the type of people they want- even if it means they take a small cut in their 500k + salaries.

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By kevinringer
11th Nov 2022 17:04

It's right that staff only working the hours they are paid for. It is also right that overtime shouldn't become a permanent requirement. But this latter goal is difficult to achieve when HMRC is forever adding new regimes for us to deal with. And often the only way to deal with them is to ask staff to work longer hours. Take for example SA. In theory, there is very little SA-based work to do February to April. We depend on staff doing a lot of extra hours in January. If we were to take on extra staff to cope with the January workload without requiring any overtime, we would have to lay off the extra staff in February. Who would be prepared to spend years gaining experience and training to a level that they're useful in January, only to be laid off in February. Instead of laying off the staff, we could keep them on, but we'd have to charge clients for those staff costs. It is going to be worse when MTD ITSA starts because if we have to comply with the March/June/September/December staggers, every quarter we will have two very quiet months followed by one month when we'll have to get everything done.

Me and my colleagues have been in the profession since the days before SA, though we all worked at different practices back then. What is interesting is that we all agree that pre-SA we only worked 9-5, 5 days a week. We never needed to work evenings or weekends. SA meant we started working evenings and weekend in January. Now add 60-day CGT, MTD VAT etc and we're all having to work weekends and evenings most of the year.

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By rememberscarborough
11th Nov 2022 18:11

Generally those that are employed within the accounting profession are paid very well compared to many others. We are paid to do a job and sometimes that means varying our hours to meet deadlines. I would suggest if people don't like it (and many on here don't) maybe they should find a different career where they only get paid for the hours they do say McDonald's.....

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Replying to rememberscarborough:
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By kevinringer
12th Nov 2022 09:26

Our local McDonalds is recruiting: £11.25/hour for midnight to 6am shifts.

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Replying to rememberscarborough:
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By Paul Barclay
14th Nov 2022 10:54

This raises a different question though, are we paid to do a job or are we paid to give up our time to complete a job? ( I don't buy a spade because I need a spade, I buy a spade because I need a hole in the ground).

If the job regularly requires additional hours (emphasis on the regularly), you are either under resourced for the level of work, or the employee is not as efficient as they need to be? Why is this laziness, lack of training etc.

If required a reasonable amount of extra hours is ok, doing this regularly is not!

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By Twickers Call
11th Nov 2022 19:10

We worked full 8 hours during my article ship with a firm of chartered accountants. The pay was very poor. We took our job very seriously and enjoyed the company of other staff. No emails to read or personal calls during working hours.
Now the technology is good at times to avoid tedious work. Not very promising with disturbances including breakdowns internet failures and data exposure. Not well paid unless you are computer genius. Identity theft and dishonesty is the biggest problem today. Is going digital justified?

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By Mr J Andrews
12th Nov 2022 09:03

Never heard the expression before . But would have thought Quiet Quitters appropriate to the likes of Kwasi Kwarteng

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By Catherine Newman
15th Nov 2022 17:28

I have had discussions with the Child Maintenance Service today and numerous ones with HMRC in the past. If you can't get through quickly while at work or, if at all, you face the sack. Nobody in the Civil Service seems to care. Do you take time off if you need to ring HMRC or the CMS? How do you fill in your timesheet? I spent 1 1/2 hour contacting HMRC/ the CMS?

At least I work from home and for myself and can do the dishwasher loading, washing machine loading, ironing with the phone on speaker. Once I had waited so long for CMS, I was on the throne when the call got answered (as you would expect). The Agent was so inept I spent about 25 minutes on the throne. This is a real issue. The other issue is your handset could die if using a landline.

I remember when I worked for a firm having to ring re the Birmingham Midshires takeover and qualification, I got no work done at all.

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By DJKL
16th Nov 2022 17:00

HMRC is always an on speaker call so can do other things whilst waiting.

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By Catherine Newman
17th Nov 2022 10:50

I need silence when working-not HMRC holding music. I have just been told by CMS it could take 6-8 weeks to shut my case and I should keep checking the portal. My MP is on to it as I write.

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