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Agent Dedicated Line waiting times set to increase

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HMRC has written to agents to inform them of changes to the Agent Dedicated Line from 2 October 2023. From this date, agents are told that they should expect waiting times to increase as the 10-minute call-answering target is removed.

21st Sep 2023
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The changes to the Agent Dedicated Line (ADL), which HMRC says are designed to improve the quality of service offered while meeting the challenges it faces in delivering services, are as follows:

  • Removal of the 10-minute call answering target
  • Introduction of call waiting time information for queuing callers
  • Re-routing of some PAYE queries

In the communication HMRC also states that it is continuing to enhance and improve digital services available and is exploring the introduction of a webchat facility. There is no indication of when this function, which is apparently "in its early stages", will be ready.

According to the email sent out to agents: "These changes are being made as part of the commitments set out in the HMRC Charter to support agents and their businesses, recognising the value tax agents bring to the tax administration system". 

Despite this, many agents feel increasingly frustrated and undervalued as HMRC continues to reduce the level of service available to them.

Agents antagonised

Unsurprisingly, the announcement has riled the agent community and many took to AccountingWEB's Any Answers forum to express their concerns. 

The general consensus among commenters is that most were unaware of the purported 10-minute service target and wait times have been considerably higher than this for a while. 

One user commented "I think the HMRC definition of a minute differs considerably from ours" with several others agreeing that a typical call to the ADL is answered after at least 20 minutes on hold.

Several AccountingWEB members queried HMRC's intriguing claim that "removing the 10-minute call answering target will allow us to focus on improving the quality of service we offer" with Donald MacKenzie asking "Does anyone understand how taking longer to answer will "improve" their service?", while Tom+Cross mused “Another dilution of service, presumably due to resources being marginalised, across HM Government".

Professional bodies perturbed

In the email, HMRC says that the changes are being implemented following consultation with "a range of stakeholders, including professional bodies who represent agents". Given the reaction of professional bodies to the news, it is clear that while such consultation has taken place, many of their recommendations are being ignored.

CIOT and ATT are writing to their members to express concerns about the changes, stating: "We are disappointed to see these changes, which represent a further erosion of services to agents". 

They are committed to continuing to work with HMRC and are asking their members to provide feedback on the impact of changes to the service once these have been implemented.

Richard Wild, head of tax technical at CIOT told AccountingWEB: “It is very disappointing that, far from improving performance on the ADL, HMRC appear to expect the service to further decline.

“While the proposed information regarding call wait times will be helpful, particularly as they are expected to increase, we are disappointed to see these changes, which represent a further erosion of services to agents.

“We will continue to discuss the impact of these changes, and service levels generally, at all levels within HMRC.”

ICAS has published a statement on its website expressing similar worries about the changes. The professional body acknowledges the importance of the ADL remaining open, however finds that "the reduction in service levels on the ADL is very disappointing". 

Welcoming the possibility of increased digital services, ICAS added: "We would like to see HMRC go much further in providing good digital options for agents".

Meanwhile, ICAEW responded to the news: "This further deterioration in the service provided by HMRC is of serious concern. Professional bodies and other stakeholders were presented with some possible alternatives, but in our view, these were even less attractive." Contrary to HMRC's claim that improving service is at the heart of the new measures, in the ICAEW's opinion:

"The changes are driven by HMRC seeking to manage performance within its available resources rather than improvement."

On a positive note, agents and the professional bodies are united in welcoming the introduction of call waiting times to the service.

‘Meet the needs of all our customer’

An HMRC spokesperson said: “We must use our resources effectively to meet the needs of all our customers.”

“We strongly encourage agents to use our digital services wherever possible, to allow our expert advisers to help agents who require one-to-one support. Last year, more than a third of calls answered on the Agent Dedicated Line were progress chasing queries, the vast majority of which can be answered online.” 

According to HMRC, last year more than 388,000 calls answered by advisors on the ADL were progress chasing calls. This was 36% of all calls to the line. The ADL also commonly receives calls on issues that can be dealt with online such as SA registration/deregistration requests, employment history requests and confirmation of tax code for the current year.

Another nail in the coffin

It is no secret that HMRC is facing serious resourcing challenges and services are declining across the board: gaps persist in digital services, postal queries lie unanswered for months on HMRC's proverbial doormat and telephone services and wait times are notoriously below par. 

The tax authority says that it is committed to improving services and recognises the value of agents, but for the many agents already lamenting that sub-standard service levels are obstructing their ability to do their jobs, this latest move will feel like yet another nail in the coffin.

 

Replies (45)

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By Refs1
21st Sep 2023 22:46

Last 3 calls, 55 minutes, 37 minutes and 44 minutes. Old days typically 2 / 3 minutes maximum.

Never knew about 10 minutes target. The agents line is manned by some good people but just too slow now. Much of HMRC sadly is not fit for purpose.

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Replying to Refs1:
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By karishma94
22nd Sep 2023 10:05

ditto...

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Replying to karishma94:
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By WallyGandy
24th Sep 2023 11:00

Ditto Ditto

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Replying to Refs1:
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By Jabba the Hut
25th Sep 2023 10:45

I don't think any of HMRC is fit for purpose

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Replying to Refs1:
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By Jabba the Hut
25th Sep 2023 10:45

Duplicated by not fit for purpose Aweb comments section!

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By EricO
22nd Sep 2023 09:38

It wouldn't be such a hassle if client coding notices were available for all, state pension figures and the download figures fetched from HMRC worked.

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Replying to EricO:
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By agillies
22nd Sep 2023 09:46

I now find the client gateway account data is a good source if anything is missing

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By Self-Employed and Happy
22nd Sep 2023 09:40

Ready for this...

In the past 2 weeks I have called HMRC 11 times (I have a few pressing issues)

Wait times of over 40 minutes on each

2 calls were answered and queries were recorded to be passed up to the relevant department (that no doubt I'll never hear from)

1 call which was to the complaints department as soon as I said "I am an Agent" said "I need to check the Guidance" then the call was immediately ended.

8 calls weren't answered, either 40-50 minutes in I got the automated "goodbye" or the call just dropped to a dead line.

HMRC is not in any way shape or form fit for purpose, you can bet your last rolo HMRC and Bodies will blame the agents for not sorting issues out, the simple answer is that we can't.

It also makes us looking absolutely [***] in front of clients and I am [***] fed up to the back teeth of it.

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Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
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By Ammie
22nd Sep 2023 09:58

Your experience is all too familiar. There is little hope for improvement.

This should make MTD very interesting.

What concerns me greatly is that this type of organisational ineptness is spreading throughout society on the back of the continuous shift to automation. Any problems arising from automation often take a disproportionate amount of time and effort to resolve and is often ignored for convenience, typically at a cost to the public.

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By michael2022A
22nd Sep 2023 09:40

I've not had a call answered in less than 20 mins since Covid! Really poor service for "Customers"

Thanks (7)
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By MaggieMittens
22nd Sep 2023 09:42

It really is beginning to feel like HMRC are trying to deliberately make our lives more difficult!
I would have thought that having agents looking after clients affairs would improve the quality of information being processed and generally reduce the weight on HMRC from the public. I do not understand why things need to be so difficult...
We certainly were never aware of a 10 minute target, very few calls are answered within 40 minutes for us and the fact that we haven't been able to contact them for months means its going to be a complete crazy fest when they open the lines again.

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Replying to MaggieMittens:
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By Ammie
22nd Sep 2023 10:05

There is an underlying reason why HMRC are behaving this way, and have done so for a very long time now, and that is because they want all taxpayers and agents to use online accounts and more automation.

What HMRC fail to see is that most calls are made because the online accounts do not provide the answers.

HMRC have no difficulty in sending out penalty notices and other meaningless correspondence but fail to address the important issues.

We are being manipulated to their agenda.

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Replying to MaggieMittens:
Tornado
By Tornado
22nd Sep 2023 13:11

"We certainly were never aware of a 10 minute target"

They probably only told Jim Harra this bit of misinformation to keep him quiet and under control.

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By tim_g
22nd Sep 2023 09:44

There is a theory that HMRC would rather taxpayers didn’t have advisors as this minimises the tax take and punishable mistakes.

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By wyoming
22nd Sep 2023 09:51

As others have said, HMRC’s claim of a 10-minute average response time is a joke. I can’t remember the last time a call to the ADL was answered in less than 20 minutes. It took over 35 minutes to get an answer yesterday. Luckily, I have always got plenty of other stuff to be getting on with while listening to HMRC’s lovely “call waiting” music!

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Replying to wyoming:
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By Catherine Newman
22nd Sep 2023 09:59

I need silence to concentrate so ringing HMRC and listening to the "call-waiting" music is not an option.

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By PAULLEWISFCCA
22nd Sep 2023 10:02

lucky if they answer at all within 40 minutes - they just put you on hold and often put the phone down - then when you do get through most of the time you speak to someone who doesnt understand the issue and quite often have a bad attitude.

well past time to dissolve HMRC

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By Self-Employed and Happy
22nd Sep 2023 10:07

In addition to this, I have actually (which is why I'm so angry with HMRC) written to them on behalf of a client (this week) they are wrongly chasing for monies, a pensioner who has multiple heart and anxiety issues (a few heart operations to boot!) that rings me constantly with worry about letters chasing for £10k plus because HMRC haven't actioned an amendment they have promised in writing they would 2-3 YEARS ago.

We have warned the complaint department that if the issue is not resolved in 30 days then the client is happy to go public with it.

My contempt for HMRC is at an all time high and unfortunately I don't actually think the Government even know how bad it is.

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Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
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By Markcairns67
27th Sep 2023 10:25

Oh yes they do.

They just don't care as issues with service levels at HMRC aren't likely to make the Daily Mail headlines.

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By JoannaU
22nd Sep 2023 10:11

Yep - over 40 minutes this morning and same last week.

I'm also having to use my mobile to call as every time I do get through on my landline they say that they can't hear me (I can hear them fine) and tell me to call back and hang-up! Every other call I make is fine, other than to Barclays Bank, so I'm guessing that it's due to the call being forwarded to people working from home and them using crappy headsets!

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Replying to JoannaU:
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By Ben Alligin
22nd Sep 2023 10:35

Ah Barclays Bank, the customer service helpline that tells you that they are all too busy to answer your call, and that the current wait time is in excess of 3 hours. I finally left them in May due to not been able to satisfy their KYC update, because they wouldn't tell me what extra information I needed to provide them with. I could only do this by telephone apparently!!

I moved to a digital bank (Virgin and Recognise) and they both answer their customer service helpline in less than 3 rings. I nearly fell out of my chair the first time that happened.

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Replying to Ben Alligin:
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By Jimess
02nd Oct 2023 14:44

I keep getting text messages from Barclays telling me that I have a statement ready - I closed all of my Barclays accounts over 10 years ago. The text messages started a couple of years ago and when I went in to the Branch I was told that they couldn't deal with it there and I would have to ring their technical helpline. I still haven't managed to get past the automated call directing system to get through to anyone!

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Replying to JoannaU:
wolfy
By rob winder
22nd Sep 2023 10:38

I believe all civil servants should be back in the office full time now. The tax payer is paying their salaries so they should be held accountable. I known a couple of people that work for HMRC in Newcastle, with back office jobs. Both work from home 4 1/2 days a week and both openly admit they have nothing/ very little to do. The half day in the office consists of arriving at 7.30 - 8.00 then leave at midday to "work from home". Both of them are on around £50k/year with a massive pension. Ironically the first line telephone support earn £22k/year. Unfortunately, they now have a sense of entitlement and think they should be able to sit watching day time telly in bed when they should be working.

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Replying to rob winder:
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By flightdeck
22nd Sep 2023 17:59

This is exactly why it is [***] service across the whole of the public sector - they are not working at home.

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By Springfield
22nd Sep 2023 11:07

Whichever Select Committee has oversight of HMRC should call Harra and a couple of his bag carriers into their meeting room one morning, together with an actual agent accountant with some real life client queries to resolve. They should then ring HMRC on a speaker phone, set a timer, and every single person in that room should sit in silence until the phone is answered.

Only once the call or calls are satisfactorily completed should the clock be stopped. With the agent and client's permission the whole event should be recorded and placed on YouTube.

It won't achieve anything other than to give Harra and his minions an hour or more of awkward and public embarrassment.

Thanks (21)
Replying to Springfield:
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By Open all hours
22nd Sep 2023 13:02

It’s a technological version of holding Lucky Jim in the stocks. Great idea.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Springfield:
Tornado
By Tornado
22nd Sep 2023 13:16

I love that idea, but know it would be too revealing and would never happen.

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Replying to Springfield:
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By Catherine Newman
22nd Sep 2023 13:16

Brilliant idea.

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Replying to Springfield:
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By Jimess
02nd Oct 2023 14:34

My colleague rang the ADL last week and the chirpy advisor said "thank you for holding it has taken 8 minutes to answer your call". My colleague replied that according to the screen on his phone it had in fact taken 54 minutes from the time the call was "picked up" by the HMRC messaging service to the time the call was actually answered by the advisor. The advisor was adamant that at his side it only registered 8 minutes so it makes you wonder at what point HMRC are actually tracking the length of time it takes for a call to be answered.

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By DMBAcc
22nd Sep 2023 12:03

The answer is simple. Everyone else is striking so why don’t all agents and professional bodies completely disengage with HMRC until HM Treasury and the chancellor adopt a system of engagement rather than enforcement. In my 15 years of running my business I have gone from local tax advisors who worked with me to foreign call centres who have not a clue about tax, finance or anything closely related. Enough is enough!!!!

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By Hometing
22nd Sep 2023 12:37

What a surprise, more service decreases.

Also, that 10 minute target currently in place.... I have waited approx 4x times that long for EVERY call I have made to them in recent months.

Is there any action that we, as agents, can collectively take?

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By Catherine Newman
22nd Sep 2023 13:20

I think it is time for MP protocol to change so that you can write to the relevant MP who oversees any department so we could write to Jeremy Hunt, Harriett Baldwin, Meg Hillier direct.

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Replying to Catherine Newman:
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By BrianL
25th Sep 2023 18:09

Am I missing your point, Catherine? You CAN write to them directly.

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By sherodwilliams
22nd Sep 2023 14:01

HMRC's response that by agents using digital services it will free up experts to provide telephone support is complete & utter nonsense. The quality of HMRC staff manning the ADL has rarely been of a good technical level and many calls now tend to result in a phrase " This is a bit over ny head so I will need to e mail an Inspector with a request to call you back" . If agents are being told that experts will be answering the phones, why would they bother wasting time with digital services?

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Replying to sherodwilliams:
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By Jimess
02nd Oct 2023 14:23

Whenever I am told that I am given a callback request I make a note on file to ring HMRC again the next week as the issue has gone into the black hole called "backroom referrals never dealt with and callback promises that are never fulfilled"

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By Brightster
22nd Sep 2023 15:00

I had no idea it was 10 minutes. Never less than 30 mins and the amount of times I just get cut off is ridiculous. If HMRC gave us access to what we need, we wouldn;t have to ring up, but there is clearly a converted plan to cut us agents out as much as possible.
My current predicament: a client has asked why his tax code has changed. He claims not to have a received a paper copy. I can't access it on-line (despite being agent for 6 years+) andI can't work it out blind. He cannot get into the gateway as he receives an error message. He has tried to call them but can't spend over an hour on the phone trying to get through. I spoke to HMRC a month ago and they wouldn't send me a copy of the code nor tell me what was in it, they said they'd post it out again to the client. A month later, still not received by the client. I have called HMRC several times this week and every time, after around 30 minutes I just get cut off.

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By Tom+Cross
22nd Sep 2023 15:29

One thing that is for sure, with all of these comments;

"Sir Harra has lost the dressing room"

That is, of course, if he ever had it.

Previous occupants of his post have failed and from past experience, failure in this department (HMRC) is rewarded in the most perverse manner. I've always though that senior civil servants, who are pretty useless but in a particular post, are signed off, up the ladder, until the ladder has no more rungs left. And then, they're ennobled.

Mind, the whole country is currently full of useless incumbents. Yes, Minister,

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By flightdeck
22nd Sep 2023 17:21

No targets any more in public sector - any old crop job / response will do. Yet they employ more, pay more and 'work from home' ... oh ... maybe THATs the problem.

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By JamesDS
23rd Sep 2023 11:18

10 minutes aaahahahaha.
In the last 5 years, I have never once had a call to HMRC answered in less that 40 minutes. More than half of the calls are simply cut off either before being answered or the second the handler realises that this is going to require some work beyond pointing me at their hellsite.

They're a shower of [***] and I look forward to the day the entire corrupt edifice is torn down and replaced with something that works and is actually accountable.

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By vinylnobbynobbs
25th Sep 2023 08:32

Next HMRC will remove the 14 day deadline for responding to post. What is the world coming to?

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Replying to vinylnobbynobbs:
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By Homeworker
25th Sep 2023 13:25

vinylnobbynobbs wrote:

Next HMRC will remove the 14 day deadline for responding to post. What is the world coming to?


Ah, I remember it well! When I was in the Revenue back in the 70s, anyone having post more than 14 days old was in trouble and at one point, when it got too bad, they put all of the incoming post in boxes and shared it out between us all instead of being allocated by reference as was done before. One poor TO(HG) couldn't cope and started taking post home. It was only found (in a suitcase) by his wife after he committed suicide!
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Replying to Homeworker:
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By vinylnobbynobbs
25th Sep 2023 14:05

It was like that in HM Inspector of Taxes in the 80s when I was there.

People would go off on long term sick for stress and you would find cupboards of old post.

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By sherodwilliams
26th Sep 2023 17:16

It has become increasingly difficult not to laugh when HMRC say anything about the use of Online Services. Indeed it has become an oxymoron in the sense that the two words are literally now poles apart. By way of example , I applied on 10 September for authorisation to act for a client. & where we are the Registered Office ( No need to worry about any delays with it going to the client etc). The online service shows the letter with the code has been sent out awaiting code entry. I managed to speak to someone on a separate matter today and just asked if these things were being sent by 2nd class post. His answer was that whilst it shows the code as having been generated & sent out, it may in fact take up to 11 days before the letter actually leaves the relevant building. The 30 day validity however started on the date the code was generated. What I fail to understand time & again is that HMRC want agents to engage with them using technology ( Their Online Services) but when they deal with anything they are still rolling up the message & clipping it to the pigeons leg .

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By helenmarie87
19th Mar 2024 14:00

Does anyone know if it is possible to use the ADL for VAT matters? Its all well and good HMRC telling agents "it's ok, you can still use the ADL" if it only actually covers self-assessment and PAYE, what about every body else??

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