Agent Dedicated Line waiting times set to increaseby
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.
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.
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.
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Consulting Tax Editor for AccountingWEB.
I have spent the last 10 years teaching the accountants of the future, mainly ICAEW advanced level corporate reporting. I also cover tax news and write and edit tax updates for other publishers including PTP Limited.