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HMRC to close VAT registration helpline in five days time  - AccountingWEB | A man cuts a cable from the phone
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HMRC to close VAT registration helpline in five days’ time

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HMRC has announced today the closure of the VAT registration helpline from Monday 22 May, giving agents and taxpayers just five days’ warning that the service will end. 

17th May 2023
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The cord will be pulled on the VAT registration helpline from this coming Monday, 22 May, with taxpayers being advised by HMRC to use the “Where’s my reply” online service instead.

Initially agents were told in an email from HMRC that the service will close on 22 May 2024, but HMRC has confirmed to AccountingWEB that the service is actually ending on Monday. 

The change will mean that people submitting a query could have to wait up to 40 working days for a response.

VAT helpline trial

The closure of this helpline comes after HMRC temporarily halted the service of a number of VAT phone lines for one day a week last year while the tax authority caught up with the backlog of post. 

HMRC said that this exercise proved successful in getting on top of the backlog, noting that it was able to clear more than 4,000 additional pieces of post each day on average. 

HMRC added that it has taken the decision to redeploy advisers from the VAT registration phone helpline to spending their entire time processing VAT registration applications, after listening to feedback from stakeholders.

Announcing the closure of the helpline in an email titled “VAT registration – improving our service”, HMRC wrote: “We constantly review our customer service offer to make sure that we prioritise our work in the best possible way to maximise our service offering to our customer groups who need it the most.”

It added: “We recognise that performance across our core service lines still needs some improvement. We’re confident that this approach will help improve our customer service levels by allowing our colleagues to prioritise processing of these applications.” 

HMRC stated that taxpayers can expect a reply on their application within 40 working days and those that have submitted within that timeframe should not contact the tax department. 

If taxpayers and agents haven’t received a reply within this timeframe they will have to email enquiries via [email protected] and HMRC will respond within five working days. 

Use online tools instead

HMRC justified the closure by saying that over 85% of the calls to its helpline are from taxpayers seeking an update on the progress of their applications, but they can get an expected response date by using the “Where’s my reply” tool. 

“Our colleagues are spending the majority of their time talking to customers about their submitted applications and – as that information is already available online – we believe this time can be better used by our colleagues to process those applications instead.”

The push for taxpayers and agents to use digital services has fast become a recurring trend, with HMRC outlining its ambitions to be “digital by default” in the  Simplifying and modernising HMRC’s income tax services through the tax administration framework policy paper. 

With the tax department sending around 70 million items by post each year at a cost of £40m, HMRC has set in motion a rapid transition to becoming digital by default, which has already seen P11D forms having to be submitted digitally

HMRC has attempted to manage capacity issues by temporarily closing helplines, with the Agent Dedicated Line currently restricted to calls only relating to self assessment late filing penalties and PAYE coding notices

Accountants' response

The news of the closure of the VAT registration helpline has already been met with opposition from the accounting community. 

Natalie Binstead-Wey, the managing director of BW Business Accountants and Advisers, said that she recently contacted the helpline four times in the past few weeks and has been on hold for 40 minutes each time. 

Reacting to the news that agents will have to email if they haven’t received a response to their application, Binstead-Wey said: “I’m sure it won’t be long before that response time is extended and the whole process will take even longer.”

She added: “I personally feel that HMRC should be investing more in their people, technology and systems, to provide a more joined-up service, rather than simply closing these much-needed helplines and providing less and less support to taxpayers and their agents.”

The readers on AccountingWEB’s Any Answers forum were equally angered by the announcement. “40 days is an absolutely awful target given this will leave almost all businesses in a no-man’s land of needing to legally charge VAT in a period in which they legally cannot charge VAT as they do not have a VAT number,” said regular reader, Ireallyshouldknowthisbut. “It used to be possible to register in 48 hours only 18 months ago under the old system.”

Jason Croke, AccountingWEB correspondent, has had a couple of applications where HMRC has lost the submission or has no record of his email, which he said doesn’t give him much faith in the new scheme. 

He said: “If HMRC actually processed registrations in less than three months, people wouldn’t need to call. If HMRC had a half-decent online system whereby agents could receive automated updates or even an email confirming a VAT number has been issued, we’d not need to call HMRC.”

HMRC has been contacted for comment and we will update the story. 

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Replies (80)

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By norstar
17th May 2023 11:26

We have a client who is about to complete on a property, which is a TOGC and opted to VAT. So far they have lost the 64-8 twice, lost the application, lost the attachments and sent it to the wrong department. Each time, an hour long wait then call managed to get them to locate the relevant documents. If we hadn't have been able to do this, we would still be no closer. That said, the client is about to have to pay an extra £150k in VAT and SDLT because of their incompetence.

It's a scandal and as usual we're caught in the middle. Heads should roll.

Thanks (29)
Replying to norstar:
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By sammerchant
17th May 2023 14:07

And Jim Harra will expect a gong when he finally goes. Nobody is held responsible. We should all inundate our local MPs with complaints about HMRC; that might force some action, one hopes.

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By johnjenkins
17th May 2023 11:28

They don't answer the phone anyway so no difference there.
I don't blame the people, it's the system that stinks and it's going to get worse.

Thanks (25)
Replying to johnjenkins:
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By Hugo Fair
17th May 2023 13:18

"Over 85% of calls to the VAT registration helpline are from customers who want an update on the progress of their applications."

*1. There's a rather obvious question: why are thousands of people prepared to spend so much time just trying to find out what (if anything) is happening to their unprocessed submission?
Could it have anything to do with the degree to which HMRC fail to meet their own pisss-poor standards in the first place?

*2. And by HMRC's own admission, that leaves several hundred people EVERY DAY who have 'real' questions/problems that need urgent resolution ... but who have in essence now been to go forth & multiply!
This is hitting people directly in their pockets and there are rumblings calling for 'direct action' ... the Poll-Tax riots weren't pretty (but the seeds were similar).

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By lisimano
17th May 2023 11:28

The email I received from HMRC states Monday 22 May 2024. So they can't even get their years right.

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Replying to lisimano:
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By coleprice
17th May 2023 11:51

Same here. Email received this morning stating 2024!

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Replying to coleprice:
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By Jabba the Hut
17th May 2023 13:03

They have issued a revised one

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Replying to lisimano:
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By Hugo Fair
17th May 2023 13:31

And they don't dare even append a person's name as the sender ...
... it simply concludes:
"Yours faithfully
HM Revenue and Customs"

No 'signature' from Jim boy or any of his overpaid minions!

Thanks (1)
Replying to lisimano:
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By GHarr497688
17th May 2023 18:12

And these are the people forcing digital tools on people . They can’t even get dates correct themselves.

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By asquithandco
17th May 2023 11:28

Could ChatGPT take care of VAT registrations? Isn't this the latest thing that will make us redundant? I've watched 40 years of digitisation and I have never worked as hard picking my way through the clogged-up, under-resourced HMRC.

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Replying to asquithandco:
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By johnjenkins
17th May 2023 12:07

There was a guy this morning talking about AI but it wasn't him , it was an AI answer to what his opening spiel would be. He said it's frightening and should be stopped.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By Hugo Fair
17th May 2023 13:38

At least ChatGPT probably wouldn't have the gall to send out this email with the following 'Subject' wording:

"VAT registration – improving our service"

The mind boggles, before curling up in a ball to whimper quietly in the corner!

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By it200
17th May 2023 11:29

View in browser

Support from HMRC

Dear customer,

"From‌‌‌‌‌ ‌‌‌Monday‌‌‌ ‌‌22 May 2024, HMRC will close the VAT registration helpline – a subsidiary of the VAT helpline "
Is this date wrong? Its 1 year and 5 days away.

Thanks (5)
Replying to it200:
Richard Hattersley
By Richard Hattersley
17th May 2023 11:45

Hi it200,
As pointed out by a number of eagle-eyed users on Any Answers, Monday 22 May 2024 doesn't exist - it's a Wednesday. HMRC confirmed to AccountingWEB that it is next week.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Richard Hattersley:
John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
17th May 2023 13:00

Good work it200... about 30mins after your post, we got a correction email from HMRC apologising for the 22‌‌‌ ‌‌May‌‌‌ ‌‌2024 mistake and confirming the VAT registration helpline will close on Monday‌‌‌ ‌‌22‌‌‌ ‌‌May‌‌‌ ‌‌2023.

So, it appears they listen to accountants sometimes. if it appears on AccountingWEB.

[OK, maybe others have been pointing this out on social media too, but the timing was auspitious from our point of view]

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Replying to John Stokdyk:
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By johnjenkins
17th May 2023 14:50

Selective hearing, John.

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By Part-Time-Accountant-in-Bolton
17th May 2023 11:30

The "Where's my reply tool" tells me to phone the helpline.

Thanks (25)
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By bosclibby
17th May 2023 11:33

VAT registration, VAT DIY claims.....all a lash up. Mostly due to HMRC failures and totally unacceptable delays. The organisation is a shambles yet considering it plays a vital role in the UK finances nobody seems to care. Without us agents the whole system would collapse.
I know the professional bodies make their/our feelings known but all that seems to come back is endless BS
HMRC needs a complete overhaul

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Replying to bosclibby:
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By Red1960
17th May 2023 12:08

"I know the professional bodies make their/our feelings known but all that seems to come back is endless BS"

I don't think that most of their members share your confidence.

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By yogibear47
17th May 2023 11:34

No doubt Jim Harra will explain why to those attending ICAEW event on the 22nd May.
Thank you to those of the older generation as I who have witnessed a deterioration in the "service" of HMRC.
Latest example, letter apologising for the delay in replying to my letter of last July and "information is enclosed" it was not, rang number at head of letter and after waiting ages told "wrong number"
Jokingly advise clients who want to contact HMRC have a copy of "War and Peace" available to read and some are surprised when they see my copy close to my desk!

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Replying to yogibear47:
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By OrmeGoat
17th May 2023 11:42

How many times have you read it up to now? You'll be able to recite it soon.

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By smeaccountant
17th May 2023 11:35

Anyone every had a response to an email sent to [email protected]? On a recent call l was told that I literally had no chnce to a response when using that email because there were 000s of emails in the queue and it only worked if the you were on the phone to them and they knew it was coming becuase then they could capture it straight away before it got buried in the queue.

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Replying to smeaccountant:
VAT
By Jason Croke
17th May 2023 11:51

smeaccountant wrote:

Anyone every had a response to an email sent to [email protected]? On a recent call l was told that I literally had no chnce to a response when using that email because there were 000s of emails in the queue and it only worked if the you were on the phone to them and they knew it was coming becuase then they could capture it straight away before it got buried in the queue.


See my longer post in this thread about my experience of email inboxes.

I was also told by another HMRC Officer that the inbox for registrations and online selling team are reviewed daily and someone allocates those emails to specific Officers, so HMRC have people looking at inboxes who then forward them onto Officers. I was told this process takes about 1-2 days, so if you send an email today, it'll be looked at by the allocations team Friday and then sent to the Officer Monday, adding almost another week of delays.

I am 100% convinced (but with 0% evidence) that HMRC are routinely deleting emails from the inbox and are never allocated to an Officer.

If you're a low paid, stressed out HMRC operative, targeted to sift through thousands of emails per hour, the chance to delete a block of email is too delicious to ignore.

Thanks (8)
Replying to Jason Croke:
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By morganedge
22nd May 2023 12:14

Jason, as former HMRC I don't believe anyone will be purposely deleting emails. It's easy enough for a new manager to have their trays set up wrong, or for someone down the line to mislabel the document so it seems to disappear. [***] up rather than conspiracy. On the wider issue it is baffling that senior managers went through a big push towards "blended working" around five years ago, to get rid of the divide between "back office" work and helpline work. And now they're actually getting rid of a helpline so that everyone can do the "back office" work.

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Replying to smeaccountant:
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By IreneXU
17th May 2023 11:53

same here. No reply. have to call, and send when on the line.

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Replying to smeaccountant:
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By TomE
17th May 2023 13:18

I emailed the above inbox on 7 November 2022 and received a response on 21 March 2023. By the time the response came through, the application had actually been processed. However HMRC, as sharp as ever, provided the following response...

'Hi, thank you for your email, sorry for late reply, I tried to search for application but could not find in our system, could you please reapply for vat registration, you can apply on line so we can process it quick.'

We also received an email from a separate HMRC officer a month later who was unable to find the VAT application reference and was equally unhelpful.

Thanks (1)
Replying to TomE:
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By spilly
17th May 2023 16:08

The grammar in that reply is appalling. I’d have assumed it was from a spammer if I received it.

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By AdamJones82
17th May 2023 11:38

What a shower of .... HMRC are.
It wasn't that long ago I could register a client for HMRC through my "old" agent login and get a registration number within a few days. Plus I could always see the registration was in process.
Recently did one under the new ASA (as we're now forced to). 2 weeks later it had dropped off my list of pending registrations. Another 2 weeks after that the client got an email with some queries.
I have had dealings with the Eire tax authorities and when you email them you get an answer within hours. You just know emailing the UK VAT department will result in no answer or months later

Thanks (5)
Replying to AdamJones82:
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By raybackler
17th May 2023 12:56

I too have recently had dealings with the Irish VAT department. Couldn’t have been mire helpful and fast.

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Replying to AdamJones82:
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By raybackler
17th May 2023 12:56

I too have recently had dealings with the Irish VAT department. Couldn’t have been more helpful and fast.

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By Dolomite
17th May 2023 11:43

We applied on behalf of a client for his VAT registration number on January 4th. We received acknowledgement of our application with a reference number and expected a positive response within 30 days. We chased them on March Ist and received the following" We are currently processing requests received by 16 December 2022. If sent after that date, do not contact us. You can expect a reply by 18 March. " So we have contacted them again with no response.
What a service, even if they are working only a 4 day week (from home).
Do we now advise the client to go limited and apply for a new VAT number and forget the 9 months trading as self-employed? HMRC obviously have.

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By Jason Croke
17th May 2023 11:43

Norstar.
I've many tales of things getting lost and general chaos at HMRC.

I've a registration submitted in March, HMRC emailed back wanting more information (online seller), I've emailed them the questionnaire back and various documents as evidence. HMRC are not receiving my email.

I've called a couple of times, each time they say no such email received and send it again. I've done this three times now. I sent another email Monday, called them just now and still not received, I said can I send to another email. No, there are no other email addresses. I asked can I post them in. No, we do not accept postal submissions anymore. I ask how then do I reply to your queries? Answer was, just send another email in....I mean, we've already established my emails aren'tt getting through and the best solutions HMRC can suggest is to send another email into the same address that doesn't receive emails.

To be fair to the person I was speaking to, said he had two other complaints on the same matter and "so there might be a problem"....so i suspect whoever is checking the inbox is just deleting them so as to hit turnaround targets because emails don't just disappear and if they do, then from Monday tax agents will have to run the risk of sending an email that may not get through and with no way of calling to check it got through.

Let that sink in, we know emails don't get through to HMRC but there is no way for you to check by calling as the phones will be switched off, so you send your email and have to hope and pray that HMRC have got it.

If someone from HMRC wants to come talk to me, I can happily provide feedback - a really simple, 2 second fix for HMRC.....add an automated email receipt back to the sender so that they know its got through and that way agent will be happy and HMRC can also monitor if their own staff are deleting emails to hit targets. other HMRC emails do a sent receipt but not the registrations/online registrations team. Wonder why that is?

I genuinely believe most parts of HMRC are not speaking to each other and that's half the problem, passing the buck with no intention of trying to fix things.

Thanks (11)
Replying to Jason Croke:
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By Moo
17th May 2023 11:53

Maybe start copying your MP in to all chaser emails to HMRC.
At least that would get someones's attention.

Thanks (4)
Replying to Moo:
VAT
By Jason Croke
17th May 2023 12:32

Moo wrote:

Maybe start copying your MP in to all chaser emails to HMRC.
At least that would get someones's attention.


MP's are powerless here.

HMRC is a non-ministerial department that has no Cabinet Minister appointed to it. The Public Accounts Committee is the best we have and they pretend to be angry but it's a tick box exercise.

The best bet is Victoria Atkins, MP who is the Financial Secretary to The Treasury but she was appointed by Rishi and is a Tory, so nothing will happen. Victoria herself has changed posts as many times as we've had Prime Ministers so I don't see her invested in the job.

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Replying to Jason Croke:
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By Moo
17th May 2023 16:04

I agree that the MPs can't actually do anything but if HMRC see that they have clearly been copied in they may be more likely to respond to you in priority to the other thousands of items of outstanding post.
Many years ago my son worked for a firm that went bust owing HMRC lots of tax, PAYE, NI, and the £ thousand plus in student loan deductions that they had taken from my son. The response from HMRC was - tough - we've not had the cash so we can't pay it over to the student loan company so your loan will not be reduced by the amounts deducted, you will have to claim in the liquidation.
I then consulted the liquidators and got the same response, tough, claim in the liquidation only you won't get anything as there are no assets.
When I wrote and explained the situation to my MP, that they were mandatory deductions through payroll which the employee had no choice over then the position miraculously changed and HMRC confirmed the lost money would be deducted from his outstanding student loan. I don't know whether this was a change in policy or if he was treated as a one off, seemed safer not to ask. But it was as a result of intervention from my MP.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Jason Croke:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
17th May 2023 11:57

So we are getting too many calls as we are grossly inefficient.
Please email
We are getting too many emails as we are grossly inefficient.

Changing the communication channel does not fix the fundamental the problem that the deluge of contacts is due to HMRC being in a tail spin off inefficiency.

The answer is actually very simple, do their job, and quickly and remove all the chasing/contact/delections.

About 90% of the calls we make to HMRC are to fix their problems.,
And probably at least 50% of those are follow ups where its not happened first time.

So just by being efficient and doing things right first time, HMRC could cut out 90% of the calls we make to them.

Thanks (6)
Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
VAT
By Jason Croke
17th May 2023 12:12

ireallyshouldknowthisbut wrote:

So we are getting too many calls as we are grossly inefficient.
Please email
We are getting too many emails as we are grossly inefficient.

Changing the communication channel does not fix the fundamental the problem that the deluge of contacts is due to HMRC being in a tail spin off inefficiency.

The answer is actually very simple, do their job, and quickly and remove all the chasing/contact/delections.

About 90% of the calls we make to HMRC are to fix their problems.,
And probably at least 50% of those are follow ups where its not happened first time.

So just by being efficient and doing things right first time, HMRC could cut out 90% of the calls we make to them.


Spot on.

If we can only email, that inbox is going to fill up fast and then, because we don't get a reply for months, agents will start sending chaser emails because their clients are chasing them and the agent needs to show they are chasing and nudging HMRC, and so the inbox will have duplicate emails and countless nudge emails.

Whoever thought this through knows nothing about human nature or indeed, how the accounting industry works.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Jason Croke:
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By Ammie
17th May 2023 12:09

I have great sympathy for your frustrating experience, I have been there and it is becoming a regular experience.

As advisers we are running out of resolution options and have fewer places to go for answers, are often lumbered with the knock consequences of penalties and a heap of unnecessary extra unpaid work which they take no responsibility for.

Is there anyone at HMRC who has any degree of control or direction?

Shocking, makes me wonder why I bother!

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By snickersinatwix
17th May 2023 11:44

And they are selling this to us as an improvement!!!!!

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By Fbs
17th May 2023 11:50

The service is appalling, long waits on the phone that's when you can get through and you don't get the message we are busy and to call back later and the phone goes dead. I've had instances whereby the application for VAT has been 'stuck' in their system.

Each time I call HMRC regarding any type of tax the wait time is unacceptable, when you do get through the person is usually helpful.

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By Silver Birch Accts
17th May 2023 11:51

What is the difference between the Russian Army and HMRC, the answer is of course nothing.
Both poorly led, disorganised , chaotic and prone to weakening areas of troops to reinforce other areas being overrun.

Commander General, Uncle Jim Harra.

If this was Russia, Putin would have him off a balcony.

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Replying to Silver Birch Accts:
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By johnjenkins
17th May 2023 12:04

Or poisoned with Harrarsenic.

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By Ammie
17th May 2023 11:56

Nice!

On reflection it won't make a huge difference as the service is often of no use anyway because they usually can't answer any queries and pass the buck. A bit like all HMRC support services really.

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By unclejoe
17th May 2023 12:00

Perhaps things would improve at HMRC if Harra spent all his time running the show instead of also being the HMRC LGB&T Champion (see his Wikipedia entry). Anyone like to take on a bet as to which year he will get a Knighthood like his predecessor?

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Replying to unclejoe:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
17th May 2023 13:41

Er, wrong target mate. Thats tabloid style "blame something you don't understand to avoid the actual issue" Which is HMRC are grossly understaffed and have got themselves into a massive hole through constant firefighting, and toppled over the edge by Covid. This is of course direct government policy, ie to reduce staff in all departments.

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By Nick Belton
17th May 2023 12:02

Taking off my accountant hat and putting on my taxpayer one, I worry that the deterioration in service levels are costing the country £billions in lost tax AND encouraging non-declaration of profits / VAT. Furthermore, the threat of tax enquiries is almost non-existant and so it encourages people to take a risk. We're already seeing directors who took out Bounce Back Loans and Covid grants and who trousered the money now seeking voluntary strike-off of their limited companies. What's happening about that?

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Replying to Nick Belton:
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By Jason Croke
17th May 2023 12:20

Agree. Must be thousands of business trying to comply and pay over VAT/tax but not able to do so...as well as dodgy traders taking advantage of the chaos.

Meanwhile traders have to somehow collect VAT whilst waiting for a VAT number, traders can't import goods without an EORI or VAT number, they can get a temporary EORI but then is a pain to fix and they can't use postponed VAT
so further cashflow issues for the trader. Amazon will not touch you without a VAT number, so another sales avenue closed off. Can't reclaim any input tax until VAT number issued, the waste of time and money here is just insane and its a miracle that SME's just keep on going.

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By tedbuck
17th May 2023 12:04

I have to confess that I have now lost patience with HMRC and if no response is received within a reasonable time I send in a complaint - usually unanswered for a few weeks - and if this is the case I am now sending a complaint to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with copies of the correspondence, which, to be fair with previous Chancellors was fairly effective, - Mr Hunt is a matter awaiting a response at the moment.
I assume that the problem is a reluctance to employ more staff to which I would say - Get more trained staff in, sort out the mess and once it is all up to date you will have less post so the staff will be able to handle it. Not rocket science and surely even a Civil Servant can follow that course.

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Replying to tedbuck:
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By norstar
17th May 2023 12:15

Unfortunately, I've now found that formal complaints are being ignored. I've written to Harra with more than one such example.

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By RogerMT
17th May 2023 12:09

HMRC is just yet another thing that's broken under this sorry excuse for government. Do any systems operated under the government's supervision actually work efficiently? I certainly cannot think of any.

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