It’s as predictable as Britons moaning about the weather. Why, accountants ask, is it so hard to get through to the right person at HMRC?
In December, an investigation by Which? found that nearly a third of calls to HMRC’s helplines were cut off because the system was too busy.
For those who did get through, the wait was as long as 41 minutes.
AccountingWEB subscribers recently complained about problems with HMRC’s helpline for tax agents, including taking weeks to contact the right expert at HMRC or being told a helpline was unobtainable.
Rebecca Benneyworth, a tax lecturer and AccountingWEB contributor, says anecdotal evidence from accountants suggests HMRC’s phone service is worsening.
“My personal view is that when there’s a problem HMRC shifts staff to deal with the problem and when something else fails over they start to shift people to deal with that,” she says. “There’s an element of fire-fighting. When there’s a surge in work, for example, when tax credit renewals start heating up not a lot of point ringing up about something else.”
HMRC hopes that moving help and advice online will help it deal with questions more effectively.
New digital services include:
- Your Tax Account: A homepage designed to let businesses file, review and pay their liabilities. This is the successor of the business tax dashboard.
- Digital Self Assessment: A portal for filing personal tax data. It has been used by 1.2m individuals so far and could be the basis of the personal tax account that has caused so much debate in recent weeks. Once your email has been confirmed and validated, all your tax information will be held online and notices will be sent via email rather than post.
- Pay As You Earn (PAYE) for employees: A new mechanism allowing employees to check their tax codes. Currently it appears to set up to only accept data about company car use.
Some of these changes may benefit accountants.
Benneyworth says that giving accountants access to more online PAYE information could the sort customer queries quicker (such as if a business gets letters from HMRC saying it owes national insurance contributions even though the client says it has paid the right amount).
It’s not just about ‘self-service’; HMRC encouraging taxpayers and their clients to answer their own questions).
HMRC also wants tax advisers to focus on helping clients sort the more complex tax problems. Not just helping them file tax returns on time each year.
“[Taxpayers] won’t need to rely so much on agents just to manage the basic administration, but will instead look to agents to help them to deal with the more complex issues and actively help them to stay on the right side of compliance,” Jim Harra, HMRC’s director general for business tax, told Tax Journal in March.
“We want to be able to differentiate between the agents that do offer value-added services and those that don’t, and to incentivise all agents to provide these services – and adhere to high standards. Part of this incentive would be making sure that those agents that provide more get the credit for doing so – whether that involves being able to take on a wider range of functions for their clients via our online services, or by receiving fewer low value interventions from HMRC.”
It’ll take at least a couple of years to work this out. “I think agents are quite frustrated with the standard of customer service,” Benneyworth says. “It’s a creaking gate. But some of HMRC stuff doing digitally is fantastic.”
About Nick Huber
I’m a specialist business journalist and have a particular interest in tax and technology.