Service with a smile? by Rebecca Benneyworth

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This week I am summarising what is troubling members at the moment in relation to HMRC service. The last 6 weeks have produced a flood of issues, and here I look at the potential causes. Is it office closures? I think not, actually.

HMRC office closures were debated in the House of Commons last week, and in part the debate touched on service standards, although the main motivation of members who spoke (including the member who secured the time for the debate) was the fate of HMRC staff who might be made redundant or required to travel excessive distances in order to attend their new places of work, having been relocated to the remaining HMRC offices. The particular issues raised explored affected staff based in Ea...

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By Annetax
19th Mar 2009 17:01

Top ten Revenue gripes
(in no particular order)
1) Inconsistency between offices and even individual staff; some will action on a phone call, some want everything in writing.
2) Post in takes far too long to process, so by the time you know something hasn't arrived it's 2 months later and your client is pulling his hair out. Your replacement copy then takes 2 more months before it is even opened.
3) Online systems that tell you they've done things but it turns out they haven't e.g SA303 applications, tax repayments...
4) PAYE codes - a category on its own! a) s336 expenses treated as taxable benefits b) agents amending codes only to have the original incorrect adjustment put back in at a later point for no apparent reason c) random adjustments put into codes where even the Revenue don't know why.
5) Phoning the telephone contact number on a HMRC document only to be told you need to speak to somewhere else completely on a totally different number.
6) Poor basic tax knowledge of the initial telephone contacts and yes, that does include the agent priority line on occasions.
7) The apparent inability of CT Offices to process loss carry back/s419 repayments the first time you send them in.
8) One particular CT Office local to us has been unable to take direct phone calls 'due to staff shortages' for almost 2 years now. Instead calls are diverted to another offce, who email original CT couldn't make it up!
9) The ever increasing security checks we have to go through as agents, providing more and more personal client details before anyone will even speak to us about the simplest matter. Are they really doing security checks or just updating their own records!
10) 64-8 Agent Authorisations - no list complete without it! Whether is is losing them before processing, removing them without reason or, the real winner, being able to talk to one office but being told you are unauthorised by another!

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By MJN53
19th Mar 2009 16:39

coding notices 2009/10
During February and March, I have been bombarded with code numbers for clients including estimated investment and other income. This has happened in previous years but 2009/10 codings seem to be including outrageous estimates from property income to gross interest.

It is so time consuming having to phone HMRC to get these adjusted.

My experience of the Call Centres is that they are improving with time but there are clearly operators who lack basic training and understanding and consistently have to put you on hold to get an opinion from their line manager.

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19th Mar 2009 11:49

HMRC errors
The number of errors and problems that are ocurring at HMRC have gone beyond funny. They take up a lot of time and the client doesn't want to pay for us to put them right as it's not their fault and who can blame them.

Some of the problems we have had are:
4 manual returns submitted after the end of October because they contained farmers averaging and couldn't be submitted on line. When processed the averaging was missed off all 4, pension contributions were included as pension income on one and missed off on another completely.
Tax returns submitted on line in plenty of time receiving penalty notices
HMRC staff lying to clients eg a client received an unexpected tax demand and was told by HMRC that we had submitted an amendment to the return. Not only was this completely untrue but the tax related to earlier years before we had started acting for the client.
Obviously we are having the same problem as everyone else with refunds being with held.
They have also sent refunds directly to the client despite instructions on the return to send it to us and their agreement that we can take our fees out of the refund.
straight forward VAT registrations taking 6 months
amendments to tax returns taking 5 months to process
HMRC regularly lose letters and other information but don't admit it until months down the line.
Section 19a notice issued to the client despite the fact that HMRC had been sent the information 11 days before the date of the notice. Client wanted to know why she had received this and why hadn't we dealt with it.
Post taking 2-3 months to open therefore clients getting demands etc that are not due.
Being promised calls back from the technical team which are never received

To be honest the list goes on and on

Everyone makes mistakes but this is incompetence on a grand scale.

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By Anonymous
19th Mar 2009 09:59

To the barricades!
Several days before the deadline I had a straightforward return to complete for a friend who had had two employments, but his paperwork was lacking and I felt it necessary to ask the local tax office for help in confirming the gross pay and tax deducted. Despite passing security, and despite that the call centre operative confirmed that he had the information on screen, he would not tell me anything at all.

I had to request that the information be sent to me, it arrived this week. Big help!

In answer to my letter of complaint, I am told that telephone staff "cannot offer information such as salary, tax, or taxable benefits".

I could accept this if it was not there on screen, otherwise this is yet another instance of HMRC policy being dismissive of the legitimate concerns of taxpayers and their agents.

Why are we not marching in the streets?

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18th Mar 2009 10:55

Security checks
The editorial, a colleague (returnign from a seminar yesterday) and a call from HMRC this morning regarding delays in repayment for reasons of security checks have confirmed that the security check problem is endemic.

I have a 5 clients, of which I am aware, where the repayment shown as made in the online service is withheld for "security checks". The amounts vary between, a few hundred pounds and over £30,000.00; the latter was apparently repaid on 3 January but is now in the "Bristol office" for further checks. I have no idea if other clients are waiting for refunds, short of calling them and asking, there is no means of verifying the repayment status because the online service has thrown itself into disrepute.

The problem has been exarcerbated where the returns were filed as requesting a repayment but that does not seem to have triggered the repayment process. For several clients, we have found that the repayment is shown as available online. We make the application online, save the electronic acknowledgement, only to find a week later, the repayment has come up again as available for repayment (i.e. not processed).

With the supplement rate at 0% there is no recompense to the client. All the agent call handlers can do is email the case handler, who can only ring the agent to say they are emailing the office dealing with the security checks. Result three HMRC staff emailing each other, outcome repayment not issued and client screaming for his money and not paying his fee until the refund comes through.

Is the answer a draft letter we can provide to clients to send to their MPs? A flood of MP queries to the Revenue & Customs chief executive may have far more effect than representative bodies talking heads raising the issue.

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By Anonymous
17th Mar 2009 09:47

Identity protocol
I too have had serious issues with unknown Revenue staff asking to speak to us about client 'so and so', then wanting us to provide information about the client before proceeding with the call. They have absolutely no idea of the danger of this method. I have to apologise that I cannot give client details over the phone as a result of an incoming phone call.

I suppose under the new penalty provisions coming in next month, our refusal to speak to them will fall into the category of 'obstruction'.

Time for the Information Commisioner to take a look at HMRC methods methinks.

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17th Mar 2009 08:52

Service with a smile?
I have had several issues

One is the lack of tax demands.

I have had four instances where payment instructions have gone astray in the post, which I accept HMRC cannot be held responsible for, but I only became aware of this in one case on the last day of February when there was insufficient time to organise a payment before a penalty was invoked and in the other three cases well into March.

Next year it will instructions via email for me.

Another client had his return amended to include an estimated underpayment included in his 2007/2008 notice of coding. This underpayment never arose as being a self assessment case the full tax due was paid. However this turned the account into an apparent over repayment and as a result my on line access to the account was cut off. How can the situation be investigated if the agent is prevented from viewing the account. The unpleasant inference is that the agent is not to be trusted!

I was cut off whilst trying to speak to HMRC but it was quite evident that the member of staff did not appreciate the difference between an actual and an estimated underpayment.

Finally I am fed up with the blizzard of coding notices. They are all in respect of self assessment cases so why go to a great deal of trouble for relatively small amendments leaving aside the repeated attempts to collect the self assessment liability early through codings.

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16th Mar 2009 18:22

What computing power ?
"With all their computing power", HMRC cannot even exclude people who have submitted SATR online returns in good time, from people who get sent penalty notices due to "not submitting" SATRs !!

UPDATE Taxpayer_Table SET Issue_Penalty=1 WHERE SATR_submission_date > date("2009-01-31") OR SATR_submission_date IS NULL ...

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By Anonymous
16th Mar 2009 16:12

More help please!
There was another issue relating to the lack of copies of demands issued to our clients before 31 January 2009. I believe that the Data Protection Act was invoked to explain why this very useful tool ensuring that we are able to check the amounts our clients are being asked to pay was terminated at short notice.
Had no-one realised that this might cause a problem?
Are we not helping in the tax collection process?
Did the Revenue consider providing an alternative tool?
I have thought a good deal about this (since the end of January!) and I suggest that with all their computing power the Revenue enable us to print a list of amounts due for all our clients from their websiteand while they are thinking about it a facility to prepare and print a payslip.Both suggestions would help rather than hinder our processes at an extremely busy time.

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16th Mar 2009 14:12

I think the chief problem with HMRC is the lack of experience of the officers manning the call centres. This is a recent experience that took place in February.
My client had received a demand as a tax return repair had not been processed by HMRC. I rang the agent priority line and tried to explain that the repair would reduce the tax to nil but I was told that the post being worked was 2 months old so my client should pay the tax and then wait for the refund to be made to him!!!!
I was then told that they can't put any sort of stop on demands going out even if they are incorrect. When I expressed some dissatisfaction with this state of affairs I was told that they couldn't stop tax demands just because someone rings them up and tells them that the tax is not due!
The phone call then degenerated as I said I felt my integrity as an agent and member of a professional organisation was being challenged.
The funny part of this story is that I was asked at the beginning of the phone call whether I would be happy to take part in a customer service survey and that the phone call was being recorded.
I received a call today from a very helpful technical inspector after a follow up call I made last week. The repair letter is still nowhere to be seen and still not actioned!
There are still some good people left in the Revenue but they are getting more and more put upon because of the inadequacies of the officers on the front line.

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16th Mar 2009 12:21

Nom de VAT ?
Callers from HMRC are sometimes reluctant to give their names, or respond only with given names rather than full names

Does anyone else recall "odd" names given by HMRC or VAT staff ?

I was told one person in VAT was "Mrs Aslan" - obviously a CS Lewis fan - and her colleague was a "PC Hardware".

I could feel my credulity being stretched ...

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