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HMRC Twitter use riles MPs

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2nd Jan 2015
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HMRC's use of a Twitter account to answer some taxpayers' general tax queries has come under fire from MPs. 

The Revenue has ramped up their use of social media, which has been outlined in their digital strategy since 2012.

It has suggested that taxpayers can now tweet them general tax enquiries to @HMRCcustomers, but they said that no personal information should be given, and only very general questions can be answered.

"There was never any question of our dealing with individual tax queries via social media. It's a complementary service only. Anyone with specific questions can still call us as normal," a spokesperson said.

But MPs Margaret Hodge and Mark Garnier have publicly criticised taxpayers being able to contact the tax department via social media with such queries, saying it is "laughable".

HMRC has a very active Twitter presence, with over 157,000 followers. It performs regular Q&A sessions on key subjects, and has introduced a new Twitter account, @HMRCcustomers, to allow taxpayers to ask general questions about tax issues.

According to the department, the account follows a successful pilot and is intended to act as an addition to existing phone and online help. 

"The service makes clear that it can't deal with questions about taxpayers' individual circumstances and that no personal information should be tweeted to HMRC," the spokesperson added.

MPs also criticised the Revenue's call handling times. HMRC contact centre telephone queues reached 10 minutes and 53 seconds in September, twice as long compared with the previous year.

But it said it would add an extra 1,500 people to handle calls in January, and was working to rectify the issue.

What do you think about the department's use of social media to answer general tax queries? 

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Replies (11)

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By DanArlington
02nd Jan 2015 12:22

Seriously?

I appreciate HMRC taking steps to modernise its way of engaging its customers, but this is unlikely to achieve a great deal. 140 characters won't get you very far. Realistically all they'll ever be able to do is direct taxpayers towards specific parts of the new HMRC gov.uk website.

 

 

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Sarah Douglas - HouseTree Business Ltd
By sarah douglas
03rd Jan 2015 12:19

Well done to HMRC
Whilst I would probably phone . I know my sister and her age group would use Twitter or Facebook for a query . I am not sure what is so laughable . It is just another way of getting the message out . They can still ring if they want to.
Even if it is 140 characters it still directs people to the info . What difference does it make to those who do not like Twitter (none) but to those that do like Twitter may find it very useful . It means it should come on Google more #employee benefits for example

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By Peter Tucker
04th Jan 2015 10:25

"Well Done" ?

The previous post ( Sarah Douglas ) appears to have missed the core of Stephen Hardwick's communication about using Twitter.

He said that Twitter should be used as a "supplement to going online and using the telephone". He continued - " What we don't want people to do is give us any personal details"

The idea that because HMRC can not effectively deal with incoming questions and enquiries, the way forward - the New Digital Age - is t use Twitter would seem to show that HMRC now needs to have direct Ministerial Control, so that a minister can be sacked when such ludicrous solutions to a failing provision are advanced.

Perhaps the disconnect that Mr Hardwick has with the problems encountered in communicating with HMRC are illustrated by the following extract from his Twitter account?

            8th December 2014 - "This is an embarrsingly middle-class problem, I know, but why has @waitrose stopped stocking Twinnings Lapsang Souchong tea bags.

This was followed by ...

          19th December 2014 - "Thank you to @TwinningsTeaUK for generously sending me some Lapsang Souchong after my middle-class whinge @ @waitrose. I'm very grateful"

Perhaps he thinks that all Tax related enquiries could be dealt with so swiftly, for instance -

"Sorry, but I haven't managed to get Clients foreign income details yet so will miss SA deadline"

"Don't worry, we understand and will issue a £30 rebate, by way of thanks for letting us know of the delay"

IF ONLY !!!!!

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Stepurhan
By stepurhan
05th Jan 2015 08:37

Missing the point

I think it is Peter Tucker that is missing the point. His example question, a query related to a specific individual, is precisely the sort of thing that Twitter is NOT intended to be used for. As for cherry-picking two tweets from Mr Hardwick's Twitter account, what is that supposed to prove? Is he not allowed to air a personal gripe on Twitter like the rest of the world? In fact, does the fact that Waitrose clearly responded to the tweet show that major corporations take note of what is happening on Twitter. If Waitrose sees the value in taking advantage of Twitter to keep in touch with the public, why shouldn't HMRC?

The whole point is that it will allow for quick response to general queries that would otherwise clog up the telephone lines. Less people in the queues for the telephone lines must mean lower waiting times for those with specific personal queries. Surely that is a good thing and to be lauded.

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By Peter Tucker
05th Jan 2015 10:12

Missing the Point?

The intention of selecting some tweets was to illustrate the thinking which may influence the way in which the Head of Communications looks at the world.

Mr Hardwick also tweeted that within 15 minutes of receiving his Form P60, he had completed his Online SA Return. If he believes that this is representative of SA Online completion, perhaps many would disagree?

HMRC is the organisation which changed the terminology from "Taxpayer" to "Customer". It also made the strategic  decision to concentrate it's enquiry routes via a Call Centre solution.

In view of the vast sums of Public monies spent on these decisions and the formally admitted lack of service provided, it is hardly missing the point to suggest that the use of a Social Network is an extremely poor substitute for taking responsibility for delivering the service required.

I and others would be grateful for any evidence that "general queries" are actually clogging up the Call Centre system.

The following link from the BBC website indicates an increase in the length of time callers are waiting and many would agree that a "general query" caller would not be likely to hold on for such long periods.

There is also the rather poor situation were 34.5% of calls were cut off, but then there are those who believe that the man found dead with 80 stab wounds in his back was the worst case of suicide ever recorded?

Perhaps if thee was a Cabinet Minister with direct responsibility for HMRC we might actually see those in HMRC management be held accountable for their decisions and actions?

 

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Replying to lionofludesch:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
06th Jan 2015 09:12

Cherry picking

Peter Tucker wrote:
The intention of selecting some tweets was to illustrate the thinking which may influence the way in which the Head of Communications looks at the world.
OK. How many tweets has he made in the last year? (so we can tell if two is a significant proportion). Assuming two is not a significant proportion, can you demonstrate that they are truly representative of his entire twitter feed? Because, as I said, they appear to have been cherry picked to try to make him look bad. That is even without addressing (which you haven't) whether he should be able to complain about companies in the same way as many other Twitter users. I am taking it on faith that the quotes are genuine by the way, though it would have been nice if you linked to them.

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Mr Hardwick also tweeted that within 15 minutes of receiving his Form P60, he had completed his Online SA Return. If he believes that this is representative of SA Online completion, perhaps many would disagree?
Did he indicate he did think that or was he just simply making a statement of fact regarding his own return? It's an important distinction.

Quote:
I and others would be grateful for any evidence that "general queries" are actually clogging up the Call Centre system.

The following link from the BBC website indicates an increase in the length of time callers are waiting and many would agree that a "general query" caller would not be likely to hold on for such long periods.

When you say "the following link", it is customary to include the link. I will admit I am unable to prove that general queries are clogging up the system. However, anyone with a general query they can't find an answer to is still going to use the same numbers, so it seems not unreasonable to assert that they must doing so. But what you also need to consider is that general query does not mean someone just has a vague interest in knowing something. "Where do I put dividends on my tax return?" is a general query. If a taxpayer cannot file their tax return because they don't know the answer to this, then this "general" query becomes of vital importance to them, and they might be willing to hang on for longer to get an answer. In fact many queries like this can be resolved without including personal information, and Twitter might well help deal with these.

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There is also the rather poor situation were 34.5% of calls were cut off...
This is contrary to the recent report on corporate governance for HMRC. Can you supply a source for this figure? Once you've done that, perhaps you can explain something to me.

Unless you are saying Twitter is completely useless as a means of resolving any queries (in light of my points on what constitutes "general" queries above) why do you object to it? You are complaining about call waiting times and calls being cut off, at the same time as objecting to HMRC adopting a new means of communication that may go some way to alleviating those problems. Why do you think channelling simpler queries to another route won't help telephone waiting times?

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By stratty
05th Jan 2015 13:26

General Advice

I think for general advice this could be a good tool. Certainly seen worse ideas from HMRC.

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By carnmores
05th Jan 2015 13:36

just get on with the email support

how many followers? doesnt that say it all ! my niece has 1.8 million on instagram ........... 

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By Rachael White
05th Jan 2015 13:53

Wow Carnmores

Is she famous?

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By carnmores
05th Jan 2015 14:29

yes

she is off to work in america this month , so will probs go to 3mill !

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By Charlie Carne
05th Jan 2015 15:10

Fame

Well Carnmores' niece is clearly more famous than Stephen Hardwick. The "Comms chief at Britain's beloved tax authority" (as he dubs himself on Twitter) has only 146 followers.

I, too, have no problem with Stephen Hardwick bemoaning the lack of teabags via Twitter, though my preference is for Whittards over Twinings (will that get me some free teabags, too, I wonder?). 

Hardwick does seem to be a stickler for rules, however, whether related to his own area of work or not. His latest tweet on 29 Dec complained about a delivery van that had stopped on double yellow lines. He clearly has no knowledge of the Road Traffic Act, as yellow lines (whether single or double) have no relevance to stopping to unload. Unloading restrictions are dictated by curb markings. Perhaps he should concentrate on what he knows best and improve communications from HMRC before pronouncing on the highway code. He could start with the mess caused by the over-simplification of information provided at the new gov.uk site.

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