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An overworked man lying on a laptop AccountingWEb Agents expect no improvement in HMRC poor service

Agents expect no improvement in poor HMRC service


Tax agents have blasted HMRC’s poor service levels and the significant impact it has had on their ability to do business, and they don’t expect it to improve anytime soon, according to recent research from the Chartered Institute of Taxation.

21st Sep 2023
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A poll of 760 taxpayers and tax advisers (651 of which were tax professionals) found that 94% of those surveyed were either ‘somewhat’ or ‘extremely’ dissatisfied with HMRC’s service levels. 

Agents criticised long wait times on the agent dedicated line, headaches of dealing with HMRC digitally, delays in processing registration for taxes and waiting over 12 months for a reply to correspondence sent to HMRC.

Impact on business

Carried out in late July and early August 2023, the CIOT survey found that the majority of agents and taxpayers (96%) held little confidence that services would improve anytime soon. While 95% of those surveyed said the impact of HMRC’s poor service levels has had a ‘moderate’ or ‘significant’ negative impact on their ability to do business.

As for the impact of this, 85% of agents said poor service has a significant negative impact on their trust in the tax system, 87% said it negatively impacted their ability to serve clients and 83% said it negatively impacted their costs of providing services. While almost 70% said the poor service affected their relationship with clients. 

One exasperated respondent said: “It is so depressingly bad I no longer want to come to work” and another said “We are having to charge additional fees for our time trying to chase HMRC up on matters and dealing with complaints from clients that we are unable to resolve due to HMRC delays”.

Contacting HMRC

A lot of the negativity from respondents stemmed from frustrations in contacting HMRC. The response to the agent dedicated line was more favourable than the other services, with nearly half of the respondents saying that they managed to get through to HMRC over 75% of the time. 

The wait to speak to an adviser can vary; 30% said it usually takes 15 - 30mins, almost 32% wait between 30mins - 45mins, and 27% said it has taken over 45mins. The quality of advice received is variable too, with a respondent saying: “Some are helpful but others lack knowledge and don't seem to understand the query.”

The other HMRC helplines are less reliable. Only one in five respondents get through to HMRC 75% of the time. As a taxpayer submitted to the survey: “I hate it when I sit for 35 minutes, do the security questions, then get cut off.”

However, 20% of respondents said they’d give up if they couldn’t speak to an adviser. 

The other option to contact HMRC is through webchats, which is often promoted as an alternative to using the helpline, but satisfaction levels were worse than the phone lines: 31% of respondents rated the service ‘very poor’ and 34% as ‘poor’ while only 0.32% said it was extremely good.  

Mixed bag for digital services

The survey showed that tax professionals have the appetite to engage with digital services, as HMRC continues down the path of becoming ‘digital by default’, but 89% of respondents said they had no other choice but to call HMRC because their query couldn’t be resolved using HMRC’s online services (such as submitting forms P87, SA401, CA4361). 

As one agent said: “If it was possible to solve the issue online, I would. Nobody wants to waste their life trying to phone HMRC.”

For the most part, agents rated their experiences using HMRC’s digital services as ‘good’ or ‘adequate’. The highest satisfaction level was for submitting self assessment returns, with almost 42% rating this service ‘good’. Other tried and tested services like submitting a VAT return online also received the ‘good’ seal of approval amongst 37% of agents. 

The only exception was registering clients for VAT, where 25% of respondents described the process as extremely poor. 

HMRC’s poor postal performance

However, HMRC’s ability to speedily process post also came under scrutiny. There was dissatisfaction across the board for HMRC’s ‘extremely poor’ postal performance; ‘issuing of other tax repayments’ received the lowest level of satisfaction from 46% of respondents.

The majority of respondents (64%) have waited over 12 months to receive a response to postal correspondence sent to HMRC, while only 0.39% of respondents were lucky enough to have only waited a month as the longest they’ve ever had to wait for a response. 

The long wait times and the need to constantly chase HMRC (as reported by 36% of respondents) comes as HMRC launched a taskforce to tackle HMRC’s year-old postal backlog earlier in this summer. 

With taxpayers and agents struggling to get through to HMRC on the phone, the other option is to use the GOV.UK guidance. However, this service was rated by 32% of respondents as being ‘poor’ to ‘extremely poor’. More concerningly, 57% of taxpayers said the GOV.UK guidance was poor to extremely poor. 

That said, not all HMRC services were dismissed by respondents; HMRC manuals were considered 'good' by 46% of taxpayers and agents.

Confidence in HMRC

In the final question in the survey, taxpayers and tax agents were asked how confident they are that HMRC’s service levels will significantly improve over the next 12 months: 65% said they were ‘not at all confident’ and 30% said they were ‘not very confident’. 

And in the final, damning verdict, 63% concluded the survey by saying they were ‘extremely dissatisfied’ with the service provided by HMRC, while none said they were ‘very satisfied’. 

“These results speak for themselves,” said CIOT president Gary Ashford. 

“Tax advisers and taxpayers have told us of their deep dissatisfaction with HMRC’s service levels. Poor service levels can have a significant impact on their ability to do business. Worryingly, they have little confidence that things will improve any time soon.

“Poor HMRC performance, such as delays in processing registration for taxes and the inability to quickly resolve matters doesn’t just harm the tax system, but has an impact on the wider economic climate too. Businesses are left unable to trade properly, individuals are left without much-needed repayments, and costs spiral as they repeatedly chase HMRC for progress updates.”

HMRC service under pressure

The survey comes after a consistent barrage of complaints about HMRC have dominated AccountingWEB’s Any Answers forum and the professional bodies came together before the Spring Budget to urge Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to invest in HMRC service levels

However, the professional bodies’ call for action was rejected, despite the financial secretary to the Treasury even acknowledging that HMRC’s service levels “have not been where they want them to be”. 

The criticism in this CIOT survey echoes similar concerns raised by agents and taxpayers in HMRC’s Charter annual report. A survey conducted with 900 tax agents and taxpayers by the charter stakeholder group found that HMRC scored the lowest on the charter standard of 'being responsive' with an average score of 2.3 out of 10, followed by ‘making things easy’ at just 2.7 out of 10. 

HMRC’s response

In response to the results an HMRC spokesperson said: “Last year, we received more than three million calls on just three things that can easily be done digitally – resetting an online password, getting your tax code, and getting your National Insurance number. That’s almost 500 people working full-time to answer just those calls.

“To free up our advisors to help those who need one-to-one support, it’s important callers are encouraged to use our online services wherever possible. CIOT know this and, through the agents they represent, can play a valuable role in helping drive change.”

While the responses to the survey show widespread dissatisfaction, HMRC reported in its recent annual report that 83% of ‘customers’ are satisfied with using online services. HMRC also noted that around two-thirds of all self assessment calls can be resolved by customers themselves online. 

Replies (17)

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By johnthegood
21st Sep 2023 09:24

A laughable response from HMRC - when asked a question about agents experience their reply is totally unrelated (unless they are suggesting that they get called 3 million times by agents wanting tax codes, NI numbers and new passwords).

And how exactly are agents supposed to influence those 3 million people when they are highly unlikely to be clients.

HMRC you are a complete joke, you don't even have the intelligence to understand the question you are being asked or have the integrity to admit that things are very wrong.

Thanks (20)
By Tornado
21st Sep 2023 09:39

And this is an organisation that thinks it will be able to cope with millions more calls from just about everyone if they actually attempt to introduce MTD for ITSA, which is already a failed project.

As with climate change, our Prime Minister needs to take a pragmatic view of this disgraceful 'service' from HMRC and do something about it ..... NOW

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
21st Sep 2023 18:45

There is a positive side to this. When you get a tax enquiry, 99% of the time you are up against a totally clueless so-called "inspector" who was probably dragged in off the street 4 weeks ago for £15 per hour.

My results since setting up in 2008 are that HMRC have tried to get over £1m out of my clients in enquiries, and achieved £105.00. The idea the likes of me would have had this sort of track record when I qualified in 1991 is laughable.

When clients are moaning - which is frequent - about the latest hassle HMRC are giving them with their utter slowness and incompetence, I always tell them to look on the bright side. The same sort of clueless wally who can't write them a letter properly will also be doing their next tax enquiry!

Thanks (6)
Replying to mr. mischief:
By Ian P J Clifton
25th Sep 2023 13:21

Just finished a CGT inquiry that started with a letter received on Christmas `Eve 2022, and finally agreed that there is no liability on my client at the end of August. Every week there was another question, many of which we had already answered. We quoted chapter and verse from the TCGA 1992 to no avail. I could not speak to a Tax Inspector and the staff at HMRC would not take any calls. ( no telephone number). It appears that they do not have any experienced Inspectors, and the staff do not have any experience. Even tried going to a local tax office to try and find an Inspector but was shown off the premises by a security officer! I know we won our case but my elderly client has had a very worrying and expensive time.

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Replying to Ian P J Clifton:
By johnjenkins
25th Sep 2023 15:00

I might be wrong but , if it was fairly straightforward, you might have been chosen as a training exercise for the newly initiated.

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By Rgab1947
25th Sep 2023 10:56

A disconnect somewhere.

HMRC says "customers" are happy whilst CIOT says very unhappy.

Are HMRC staff smoking?

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Replying to Rgab1947:
By Tornado
25th Sep 2023 11:37

Well, an interesting thought.

Of course anyone working from home is unsupervised and can do what the hell they like when they are not working AND when they are working. Who is going to know until the quality of work is so poor that it is obvious that something is wrong and then what do you do, send someone to their home to supervise them?

Thanks (2)
Replying to Tornado:
By johnjenkins
25th Sep 2023 12:07

There are many that don't give a monkeys any more. There are many that have reached the age of "don't need all this hassle" and we are left with many who aren't trained for the job. Until we get a "STRONG" leader this will continue ad infinitum.

Thanks (1)
By SuperAccountingSteve
25th Sep 2023 11:09

Go woke.....go broke...........

If you're a publicly funded entity or an entity with such power that your customers have to swallow your costs, going woke does still mean going broke, but your customers or service users go broke before the wokist entity.

HMRC staff are working from home, and navel-gazing re microaggression training, etc, the same with big 4 auditors giving their staff all the tipped towards life (work/life) benefits and shafting the auditee with higher costs and worse service.

Some say China has poisoned us with wokism as a long-term strategy to weaken us, may be a conspiracy theory, but we are most definitely poisoned.

Thanks (1)
Replying to SuperAccountingSteve:
By stepurhan
26th Sep 2023 08:45

SuperAccountingSteve wrote:

Go woke.

You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means.
Thanks (2)
By tax91
25th Sep 2023 11:22

I agree with johnthegood and I can accept that tax agents would phone for tax codes, new passwords etc which we all know how to do. As the agent helpline has been taking calls from the general public, I would suggest HMRC Spokesperson has got it wrong.
This would seem rather like the course they do when the sound is out and they blame the listener despite a number of people on the same course having the same problem.
The attitude of 'its you not us' is the unlikely 'get out of jail card' and marking their own card does not justify anything. It would be far better if they just held up their hands and said we have a problem with the software or whatever and then we could understand that.

Thanks (0)
By BirdnCo
25th Sep 2023 11:26

Agree with CIOT, but what also worries me, HMRC are also responsible for collecting taxes to run our country...

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By johnjenkins
25th Sep 2023 11:32

HMRC have been going down the pan for some time. I personally don't think they will ever recover.
I also don't think any Government will recover (certainly within the next 5 years) from what is happening at the moment. These problems are worldwide as capitalism and communism becomes unstable. The main reason for that instability is movement of cultures. There are so many displaced people (this will increase) who move for whatever reason and try and take their culture with them. So, yes I do feel some sort of "Armageddon" is with us (and I'm an optimist) and it is affecting our culture and social life. This is without gender, green and and other issues.

Thanks (1)
By brendanm
25th Sep 2023 14:53

I'm waiting over a year to get a refund for a deceased client who passed away over 3 years ago. Still no word on my refund. It's lucky the family aren't in dire straits.

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Replying to brendanm:
By johnjenkins
25th Sep 2023 14:58

Only 3 years, stop complaining and come back when it reaches 5 years.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
By brendanm
02nd Oct 2023 16:46

Good for you John that you think 3 years is acceptable

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Replying to brendanm:
By johnjenkins
03rd Oct 2023 09:18

I can, at times, be very sarcastic.

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