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Agent Dedicated Line restricted to ‘complex’ SA queries

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To cope with the busy tax season, HMRC has advised agents that in January 2023 the Agent Dedicated Line will only be able to answer “complex” self assessment queries. 

 

22nd Dec 2022
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This week, HMRC has alerted tax advisers that the Agent Dedicated Line (ADL) will be reserved until 31 January for “complex” self assessment queries and for all other issues agents should either use HMRC’s digital channels or the normal customer line. 

With self assessment being the tax department’s busiest time of the year, HMRC explained that the restriction on the ADL will enable it to “provide the best service we can through the SA peak”. 

“We receive lots of calls to the ADL that are not complex enquiries – for example, PAYE queries in relation to progress-chasing, queries about general tax information and employment histories. You can get these answers on our self-serve digital channels,” the HMRC update to agents said. 

However, those that have to ring the normal customer line instead have been warned that it “may take a little longer than usual” to get through to an HMRC call handler. 

Calling with a non-complex question

HMRC has made clear that this is a temporary measure and will only apply between 1 and 31 January. 

An HMRC spokesperson said: “What we’re trying to discourage are telephone queries that can quickly and easily be answered by using our digital services. January is our busiest period and we want to reserve capacity during this month to support agents who need one-to-one support to help them file their clients’ returns.”

HMRC has told AccountingWEB that the HMRC adviser will inform agents who call the ADL with an SA query that they could have solved by using the digital services where they can go online to get the answer. 

But if the agent is calling on behalf of someone who is unable to self-serve digitally, the adviser will then deal with the query over the phone. 

What is a complex query?

With only the PAYE example about progress-chasing as guidance, the question of what counts as a complex question is still open for interpretation. 

Sian Marsden, tax disputes associate director at RSM UK, questioned how HMRC will decide what is a complex query in the accounting firm’s weekly Tax Brief. 

“If an agent believes that a query in relation to a 2021/22 return is complex enough, rings the agent helpline and has to wait a significant amount of time, could they then be told the query is not complex enough, and instead of a simple answer being provided by the adviser they must ring the general helpline?” noted Marsden. 

She added: “This does not feel like a supportive approach, especially in a period when agents are under significant pressure to help clients meet their self assessment deadlines. It’s likely to result in unnecessary additional professional fees for taxpayers engaging the services of an accountant or tax adviser.” 

Marsden, however, believes that the restriction will shift the pressure to the general phone services, which she concluded will result in more delays for all taxpayers. 

Community reacts

After having recently come up against a four-day HMRC phone outage earlier this month caused by a systems change, the Any Answers community was feeling particularly spiky about another restriction on the HMRC phone lines

“Anyone would think that we rush to use the ADL as our first option rather than trying every other avenue possible first. After all, we would much rather listen to hold music for an hour rather than work on a client’s SA in January,” said Lesley Barnes.

Fellow AccountingWEB regular Ireallyshouldknowthisbut was equally barbed: “Funny, there was me thinking the last thing the ADL could do was answer complex SA queries.”

Tax agents working through the January rush with a restricted ADL comes after the dedicated line was withdrawn throughout much of 2020 up until June 2021, leaving accountants complaining during last year’s self assessment season of lengthy wait times upwards of 45 minutes.

Other options

Instead of calling the ADL, HMRC suggested agents instead use three other methods to solve their queries:

  • Use the agent dashboard 
  • Sign up to the income record viewer service
  • Remind customers to use their personal tax account.

However, some AccountingWEB users pointed out flaws with some of these alternative routes to the phone line. Kevin Ringer took umbrage with the personal tax account as an option for taxpayers to access general tax information and to request a SA302, noting that agents cannot access this service and until HMRC gives them access, “we have no choice but to phone HMRC”.

Ringer also highlighted that the dashboard does not list all matters agents need to progress chase, such as CGT 60-day reporting issues.

Meanwhile, Ian McTernan saved his frustration for the income record viewer. He complained that despite already being registered as the agent, he still has to get authorisation from the client again to use this service and it relies on the client having a government gateway account.

Replies (49)

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By RFL H
22nd Dec 2022 11:58

It is clear that HMRC have no intention of properly resourcing any of their enquiry lines. Why is that acceptable?

Thanks (20)
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By User deleted
22nd Dec 2022 12:07

That's a joke, sometimes I have trouble getting the call responder to deal with basic enquiries, never mind complex ones!

Thanks (17)
By Duggimon
22nd Dec 2022 12:34

I only ever call the ADL to get HMRC to fix something they've made a mess of. Is that a complex query? It's not something I can fix myself or I'd fix it.

Thanks (17)
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By User deleted
22nd Dec 2022 14:32

Not that long ago, HMRC had an online chat facility to ask PAYE queries. It worked very well, I answered security questions and got help. I could leave the chat window open while in the queue and get on with work in the meantime. For some reason it then got cancelled.
Why on earth can they not have online chat brought back for this and self assessment, VAT and Corporation Tax too?

Thanks (6)
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By Winnie Wiggleroom
22nd Dec 2022 15:02

Jim, you really need to get your ship together, this is really beyond a joke now

Thanks (10)
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By Refs1
22nd Dec 2022 19:17

Tuesday called HMRC ADL at 9am.
Had made a list of 5 different client issues.
First adviser said can only action 3 clients per call. I had to ring back a few seconds later for the other 2 clients.

Started 8.55 am finished 10.25. The advisers were good and easily sorted my issues. 5 years ago this would have taken 20 minutes maximum, and not an hour and a half.

Disappointing was an understatement.

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By JCresswellTax
23rd Dec 2022 10:04

Quite simply, an absolute f*cking sh*t show.

Thanks (18)
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By AndyC555
23rd Dec 2022 11:14

Complex from whose point of view?

Some of the people I speak to at HMRC would find "how many beans is five beans?" too complex to answer.

Thanks (14)
Replying to AndyC555:
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By The Innkeeper
04th Jan 2023 11:04

My variation on this what does 2 + 2 =?

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By justsotax
23rd Dec 2022 11:17

whenever i have a 'complex' query, they refer it upstairs - then i wait for the phone call that never comes....they are an embarrassing institution.....time that they compensated the tax payer at the same rates they try to charge for their utter tardiness...

Thanks (12)
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By Self-Employed and Happy
29th Dec 2022 14:40

Just before Christmas I had to call them.

For apparently no reason they had

a) removed marriage allowance from client (2021 Self Assessment, letter with new calculation arrived this month).

b) re-allocated the clients correct payment to the current year instead of 2021 which then generated a late payment penalty.

I was told by the advisor who sorted it out, that the return had been "reloaded" onto the system after being deleted and the person trying to cover their own tracks didn't take a proper snapshot before deletion therefore was unable to rectify the error.

If HMRC could simply eliminate such basic failures of systematic control then maybe they'd receive less calls in the first place.

This publicly funded tax collection agency is an absolute joke that needs reforming form top to bottom. Maybe if you had accountants advising instead of civil servants without a friggin clue you might get something fit for purpose.

Thanks (10)
Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
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By bosclibby
29th Dec 2022 16:30

"This publicly funded tax collection agency is an absolute joke that needs reforming form top to bottom."

Couldn't agree more with this sentiment #tax #hmrc

Thanks (2)
Replying to bosclibby:
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By raju m
30th Dec 2022 10:33

All HMRC staff should be given a £million new years bonus to get them to start doing some work in 2023.

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By RobertD
29th Dec 2022 14:43

What does Jim Harra have to do to get the sack I wonder.

Thanks (8)
Replying to RobertD:
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By djtax
04th Jan 2023 11:46

...and no doubt he will get the obligatory gong for doing 'such a good job' when he retires...!

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By Ammie
29th Dec 2022 14:45

The dedicated line is not fit for purpose.

Next step, no line at all just use the website, bot and email system and hope for a solution.

Dealing with HMRC is not good for ones mental health.

Thanks (7)
Replying to Ammie:
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By The Innkeeper
29th Dec 2022 15:46

The whole outfit is not fit for purpose

Thanks (5)
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By JamesDS
29th Dec 2022 15:00

So, to confirm: The line current uncapable of answering the simplest enquiries is now going to answer only the complex enquiries. Aww, bless their little hearts for thinking they can try!

The fact that they've managed to state that without laughing their respective tits_off is a triumph of double-speak that Orwell would have been truly proud of. And horrified by obviously.

Thanks (9)
Replying to JamesDS:
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By JamesDS
29th Dec 2022 17:54

"uncapable", when you conflate "unable" with "incapable" in your head, but still manage not to conflate "incompetent" and "shower" as well.

Thanks (1)
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By jamiea4f
29th Dec 2022 15:00

Rather like banks HMRC have now decided that the low cost option of minimal assistance is perfectly acceptable. Whereas everyone else just thinks they are no longer fit for purpose.

Thanks (7)
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By Ian McTernan CTA
29th Dec 2022 15:01

As I said in my 'any answers' post, HMRC just don't want to be hassled by their 'customers' or agents....

I might be forced into talking every single client through setting up a Gov Gateway account and then registering for the income rubbish no service...

Then of course clients lose their log in details and round and round we go, as apparently I'm not allowed to know their gateway details...

If only they put their ideas to a panel of informed agents before going ahead (or just 'consulting' the big firm/Institutes who don't want to rock the boat) and then being forced to act on the feedback...

Instead they may as well just close down, say 'it's self assessment, you do it' and not bother having any staff doing anything other than enquiry work.

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By seonaid anderson
29th Dec 2022 15:22

They really really don't want agents involved.... so frustrating

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By Homeworker
29th Dec 2022 16:05

So is a call to get a P800 cancelled because a self assessment return was filed deemed as complex? I also need to call them about them missing off the foreign pension on a return filed on paper. How can I deal with either of those digitally?

Thanks (1)
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By markabacus
29th Dec 2022 16:55

I rang ADL last Fri 23/12, unfortunately twice. First time:
2.5 mins listening to the clap trap about how useful their website was etc etc
28mins listening to the music [if you can call it that] on hold and their msg on how important my call was
2 mins dealing with the issue
Second call:
Another 2.5mins of clap trap
57mins in the queue
2+mins dealing with the issue

I have to wonder is ADL actually operative or are we being pushed into the public queue without us realising?
Roll on 2023 but I don't suppose we'll see much difference by the end of it

Thanks (4)
Replying to markabacus:
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By Jimess
30th Dec 2022 10:53

At least they have changed the horrid electronic bubble music to a jolly classical piece - however when you have done 50 rounds of a jolly classical violin piece interspersed with "your call is important to us, please hold and we will connect you to the next available adviser" you just want to bang your head on the desk in despair. I would have preferred more effort to man the ADL sufficiently than just trying to improve the agents listening experience. If HMRC considered our calls important then they would make sure calls are answered within a few minutes. I hark back to the HMRC of the 1980's when calls had to be answered within 5 rings or the District Inspector wanted to know why the phone wasn't manned, and woe betide the person who missed the call. Centralisation of HMRC services has just become an unwieldy and too big to handle.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Jimess:
Morph
By kevinringer
30th Dec 2022 11:18

Even when the ADL was launched in relatively recent times, it was answered within a couple of rings. I suspect HMRC staff of old would be horrified with the appalling service levels of the HMRC of 2022.

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By Mr J Andrews
29th Dec 2022 17:37

What a cunning stunt to pull. Another failure by HMRC to provide customer service. Reading between the lines - if they can't answer the query , it's considered non-complex ; so have a go at our digital service [ which is equally useless ] to get back to square one.
What other Xmas presents did Harra provide I wonder.

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Morph
By kevinringer
29th Dec 2022 17:51

"An HMRC spokesperson said: “What we’re trying to discourage are telephone queries that can quickly and easily be answered by using our digital services. January is our busiest period and we want to reserve capacity during this month to support agents who need one-to-one support to help them file their clients’ returns.”"

I phone the ADL regularly to progress chase HMRC (eg a Tax Return efiled April 2021 that is still not captured now 20 months later). I regularly have to queue 20-30 minutes. Earlier this month I had to queue for over an hour. HMRC, do you think we agents are so dumb that we would prefer to spend an hour queuing when we could quickly deal with an issue digitally? Obviously HMRC must be dumb thinking we would. Come on HMRC, this is not how to fix your appalling service levels.

Thanks (5)
Morph
By kevinringer
29th Dec 2022 17:51

HMRC refuses to handle agent calls because HMRC can't meet service levels. What is the next step? Shred incoming post because HMRC can't meet service levels?

Thanks (7)
Morph
By kevinringer
29th Dec 2022 17:55

HMRC tell us to "do it online". In February 2012 HMRC said it was launching the Agent Dashboard a mere 2 months later in April 2012. HMRC told us the agent dashboard would let agents:

1. Self authorise agents without the need for a 64-8.
2. Amend client PAYE codes online.
3. Register a client for SA and receive the UTR at the end of the process.

But HMRC failed to deliver. 10 years later HMRC has still failed to deliver. HMRC, we want to service our clients online but we can't do that if you fail to deliver the tools.

Thanks (7)
Morph
By kevinringer
29th Dec 2022 17:58

"Agent Dedicated Line restricted to ‘complex’ SA queries"

Solution: phone the general SA/PAYE (un)helpline. There is no restriction preventing agents using that number, nor raising what HMRC might consider "non-complex" issues. The ADL when launched was (1) gave agents priority and (2) routed calls to experienced HMRC staff. Now that both of those have been abandoned, the only advantage of phoning the ADL is to bypass the dreadful voice unrecognition system. If we're prepared to run the gauntlet of the voice unrecognition system, we might as well phone the general (un)helpline.

Thanks (1)
Morph
By kevinringer
29th Dec 2022 18:07

"Tax agents working through the January rush with a restricted ADL comes after the dedicated line was withdrawn throughout much of 2020 up until June 2021, leaving accountants complaining during last year’s self assessment season of lengthy wait times upwards of 45 minutes."

When launched, the ADL had no pre-recorded messages and was answered by an experienced HMRC officer within 3 rings. Things went to pot when Covid started. Wait times were "reduced" to 10 minutes earlier this year, but they were over an hour earlier this month.

Pre-Covid the ADL was operational evenings and weekends. The ADL has never returned to pre-Covid hours and is now operating about 75% of pre-Covid hours. HMRC is taking far longer to process documents so we're having to progress chase far more items. That means far more calls have to be squeezed into less time. Thus the long queue times.

Question: what are the HMRC staff doing that used to staff the ADL evenings and weekends? If HMRC continue to refuse to return to pre-Covid hours, HMRC should use those staff to answer extra calls during the now reduced operational hours.

Thanks (1)
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By Pam Moreland
30th Dec 2022 08:36

I agree completely with all these comments. We are getting no service at all and it is us as agents who are trying to keep the system going. When will HMRC even understand that the majority of their so-called 'customers' cannot cope with tax and rely on agents to do it for them. Even if you can get them to set up a personal tax account, which most of them can't or won't do (you are my agent, why do I need to do this is the usual response), they lose the log ins and then we go round and round in circles. I am still trying to find out who registered a trust two years ago which I now cannot access because no one is admitting to it and HMRC won't help.
And as for the CGT service! I have been on hold for nearly four hours on three calls in the last couple of weeks and one of them was just to get a paper form for an elderly taxpayer with dementia. The request took three minutes after a wait of over an hour. There is no other way to get a paper form. Mind you it still hasn't arrived!
We wait 6 months for replies to matters which can only be done by post and then are requested to give HMRC information within two weeks, when the letter took over two weeks to reach us. And now the agent line, which used to be answered in a few minutes makes you hold for at least 20 minutes and now doesn't want to answer any calls at all.
The 'service' is not fit for purpose. And we are the ones who have to try and make it work.
Thank goodness MTD has been put back. They can't even run the basics.

Thanks (4)
Replying to Pam Moreland:
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By Jimess
30th Dec 2022 21:09

The worse thing about it all is that clients still think that matters can be dealt with almost immediately, they do not understand the hoops we have to jump to get the simplest of tasks done. Almost every time I call the ADSL the HMRC operator tells me that the query is above their pay grade so it gets referred to "back office" with a call back promised within a couple of days that never materialises. It's not a "back office" it's the biggest black hole I have ever come across.

Thanks (2)
Morph
By kevinringer
30th Dec 2022 10:03

We all need to tell our PBs about these experiences. This gives the PBs the evidence they need to tackle HMRC. And I know that when the PBs have the evidence, they really do tackle HMRC. Your PB contact is listed at the end of https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/agent-update-issue-103.

Thanks (2)
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By Nick Belton
30th Dec 2022 11:33

I reckon about 75% of the calls I make to HMRC's ADL are because PAYE tax codes aren't there to view on my HMRC agent pages for clients, OR pension / employment information that I need isn't coming through my software API link with HMRC, OR - when it does come through the API - pension has been dumped into employment.

HMRC need to understand that there will always be millions of taxpayers that will not want to get involved in tax and want to pay an agent to take care of it all.

The current HMRC service for agents is a complete shambles and is totally unacceptable, particularly when there are postal strikes that are adding further delays to the process.

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Replying to Nick Belton:
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By Jimess
30th Dec 2022 21:28

I was really surprised when I was told by a VAT registration helpline operative that a copy of the client's registration documents would be sent out by post when we had just established in the phone call that the delay in my client receiving the documents was because the original documents were stuck in the post due to the postal strikes. The HMRC operative could not see the irony of it. My colleague rang HMRC today to request a paper capital gains on property return for a client and was told it could take eight to ten weeks to arrive. When he mentioned that eight to ten weeks was beyond the filing deadline he was told that it was the current protocol. I do wonder sometimes if they are playing some sort of Candid Camera type game to see who can get the best reaction.

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By moneymanager
30th Dec 2022 11:48

Who remembers this https://youtu.be/xgQewKiBQlU, they were lying then and they are lying now; the level of deterioration in the functionallity not only of HMRC but state and private operations, especially those to whom "state immunity" is extended when working for what we call "our" governments, around the world recalls a a quote from Ian Flemming:

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action”

― Ian Fleming, Goldfinger

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By Tim Robinson
02nd Jan 2023 11:32

Filing extension, anyone?

Thanks (1)
Replying to Tim Robinson:
Morph
By kevinringer
02nd Jan 2023 11:55

HMRC will resist it, like they did for the last two years. But HMRC should realise if they are still behind because of Covid, then some agents and businesses will also still be behind. HMRC can hardly refuse given HMRC have a bigger backlog now than they did in Covid. If any of us feel we need an extension, we need to put the case to our PBs. I'm certainly further behind which is caused in part by having to spend more time progress chasing HMRC.

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Replying to Tim Robinson:
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By Jimess
03rd Jan 2023 06:33

We have been wondering if this might happen this year due to the postal strikes. Clients that use technology can receive their tax returns electronically for e-signature, but we have a lot of clients who either struggle with technology or simply do not use it so we are struggling to get returns out for approval and receive them back in good time. We are still waiting for a few returns that clients posted back to us at the beginning of December, so if this sort of postal delay continues we have no chance of getting postal returns back by the end of January. Does anyone know of a decent letter courier service?

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
03rd Jan 2023 18:25

HMRC need to understand that we are not the 'enemy'. I get stressed out whenever I have to ring. I get a mug of coffee and calm myself by taking deep breaths and then phone hands -free for usually anything up to an hour.

And as others have commented - what are 'complex' issues? How can I tell a client who is getting stressed out with yet another incorrect demand that their problem is not important?

And as for waiting for replies - I am still waiting for an answer to a letter sent a year ago and all I want is confirmation of the final tax bill and that the matter has been settled. Client has made an estimated payment on account so no penalties interest etc but she has probably overpaid. I've rung - nothing done. I've written - no acknowledgment or reply. I rang again and sent another letter recorded delivery (or whatever they call it now.) and still nothing.

And dont even get me on trying to register for VAT. I cant - according to the so called 'technical dept' and I quote' there are some clients for which there is a problem in registering for VAT. We suggest apply using a paper form.'

HMRC is a joke but its not funny

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Replying to Jennifer Adams:
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By Jimess
05th Jan 2023 11:49

Thank you for sharing that you get stressed when you need to ring HMRC, I feel exactly the same and it's got so bad that I really have to work myself up to it. Dealing with any large organisation is stressful these days, but I think HMRC are absolutely top of the pile.

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By 97mwill
04th Jan 2023 10:15

Croner-i reporting this morning that the ADL restriction relaxed so as to deal with all Self-Assessment queries rather than just the "complex" ones.

EDIT: Colleague has just rung ADL to get a 2022 partnership return cancelled as we'd marked that partnership ceased in 2021 and their system hadn't picked it up, only to be told that the ADL cannot deal with that, only complex queries. He was told to ring the normal line. What a joke.

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Replying to 97mwill:
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By The Innkeeper
04th Jan 2023 11:14

Pherhaps your colleague should bill hmrc for the time hanging on to the regular line

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Replying to The Innkeeper:
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By 97mwill
04th Jan 2023 12:57

90 minutes it took him to resolve the query on that line, and they still couldn't sort it they had to send a referral off, whereas ADL would normally do it there and then. Yet another colleague called the Agent Line and got a PAYE code amended. I've also just called to query an entry on a PAYE code whilst doing a tax return (Self-Assessment!) to be told they won't deal with it, only complex queries being dealt with. So frustrating, nothing is consistent.

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Replying to 97mwill:
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By The Innkeeper
04th Jan 2023 13:08

Could they be using the ‘not complex’ reason as a reason for doing nothing and just sitting on their bums watching you tube all day

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Replying to 97mwill:
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By Jimess
05th Jan 2023 11:55

There was an article in the Telegraph earlier this week about taxpayers complaining that they were unable to resolve queries on the SA helpline, some reporting call waiting times of well over an hour only to be cut off. The Taxpayers Alliance waded in with their comments and it was mentioned that they were taking this up with HMRC. It's just adding fuel to the fire to tell agents to use the usual SA helpline when it is already so overloaded. What a shambles!

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By SteveHa
04th Jan 2023 13:29

I believe that, for HMRC, any calls regarding tax are considered to be "complex".

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