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Agents slam HMRC's performance in Charter report

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Taxpayers and agents have criticised HMRC’s poor service performance in the Charter annual report, where they raised concern over the Revenue’s ability to meet the standards of being responsive, making things easy and getting things right.

19th Jul 2023
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In the forward to the HMRC Charter annual report 2022 to 2023, HMRC’s chief executive Jim Harra hailed the 82% satisfaction rating for the tax department’s online services as meeting the HMRC Charter standards. 

The HMRC Charter contains commitments to taxpayers, that the tax department will uphold which are:

  • getting things right
  • making things easy
  • being responsive
  • treating you fairly
  • being aware of personal circumstances
  • recognising that someone can represent you
  • keeping your data secure, and
  • mutual respect.  

However, Harra admitted that it’s been hard to meet Charter standards with a reduced departmental budget, and that in order to maintain standards it has to encourage more taxpayers to use online services. 

In stark contrast, the charter stakeholder group presented excoriating complaints from agents and taxpayers about HMRC’s service levels and accountability. 

Agents have the most negative interaction

A survey conducted across a group of more than 900 tax agents and taxpayers found that HMRC scored the lowest on the charter standard of “being responsive” with an average score of 2.3 out of 10.

The Charter standards ‘Making things easy’ and ‘getting things right’ scored slightly higher, at 2.7 and 3.4 respectively. 

Agents were the most negative out of all the ‘customers’ that interacted with HMRC, with only 45% of agents rating their experience positively. This had fallen from a score of 48% in 2021. 

The lowest rating given by agents to HMRC's performance against the Charter was when they were asked if they agreed that HMRC systems prevented mistakes - only 36% did.

While the customer experience committee accentuated the positives of HMRC’s performance against the Charter, focusing on the tax department’s use of digital channels, the independent adjudicator concluded that Charter adherence across frontline service, through complaint teams into senior leadership “is patchy”. 

The adjudicator concluded that “Charter implementation and adherence is not uniformly consistent, despite concerted efforts in some areas.” It added: “Our view of Charter adherence and implementation is broadly limited to those directorates that deal with or have responsibility for complaints.”

Charter Stakeholder Group

The harshest criticism came from the Charter Stakeholder Group. This group is comprised of professional bodies like ICAEW, ACCA, CIPP, ICAS, ATT, CIOT and IFA, alongside groups like the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group and the Admin Burdens Advisory Board. 

Aside from getting feedback from agents and taxpayers on HMRC’s performance against the Charter standards, the group found that 85% of those surveyed didn’t think HMRC is held accountable for its performance against the Charter.

The group highlighted one comment as summing up the mood of the responses: “There are no consequences if HMRC gets things wrong. They hold taxpayers and agents to much higher standards than they hold themselves and there is little or no recourse for the extensive costs and time-wasting caused by HMRC incompetence and delays. 

“They should be held to the same standards (deadlines) and pay compensation when they get things wrong - this might focus their minds and make them try to do things better. At the moment, there is no incentive for them to improve at all!”

Stakeholder analysis 

Richard Wild, the CIOT’s head of tax technical team, said the survey published in the Charter reflected the views that the professional body regularly hears from its members about “the everyday time wasted by the challenges they face in interacting with HMRC”.

He was particularly disappointed that the three standards that scored the lowest in the Charter Stakeholder Group survey were on responsiveness, ease, and accuracy which “represent the ‘health’ of the tax system”. 

Meanwhile, one of the areas HMRC highlighted in the Charter as where it claimed to be raising standards was improving external guidance. However, the Charter Stakeholder Group said the accuracy of guidance and information provided by HMRC “continues to raise significant concerns, particularly among the agent population who can most readily tell when the information is incorrect”.

This was particularly concerning for taxpayers who the group said would automatically assume that the information from HMRC is correct.   

Customer Experience Committee

The poor service levels weren't lost on HMRC's Customer Experience Committee either. The group, which comprises representatives from HMRC’s executives and non-executive directors, said that customer service levels, and specifically telephone answering times have continued to be a challenge over the past year. 

“With an increase in the number of taxpayers with more complicated tax affairs and the need to make substantial efficiencies, this will continue to be the case in the coming financial year,” said Juliette Scott, the chair of the Customer Experience Committee. 

Scott said the department has “extensive plans” to advance its digital transformation and reasoned that more taxpayers self-serving would enable customer service advisers to focus on those with more complex tax affairs and those that need extra support. 

She added that the Customer Experience Committee will ensure HMRC’s digital transformation is underpinned by a customer experience dashboard, improved customer communications and guidance, and “embedding of the Charter standards into all of HMRC’s decision making”.

The Charter annual report was published alongside HMRC annual accounts and performance review. HMRC used the performance review to spread the same message about the digitising of services as being a way to get on top of the traditional phone and post services, which remains a challenge for the tax department. 

Replies (18)

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By Hugo Fair
19th Jul 2023 15:32

Customer Experience Committee is just a nice label on another team controlled by HMRC ... proof?

They parrot the identical nonsense that the Harra spouted at the last PAC ... viz illogically conjoining:
"an increase in the number of taxpayers with more complicated tax affairs" with the proposal that the solution will always be more automation/digital/online.
Hardly the most obvious piece of logic unless they really believe (after over-indulging in some dubious comestibles) that increased complication is efficiently tackled by removing the human.

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By SteveHa
19th Jul 2023 15:54

Quote:
“With an increase in the number of taxpayers with more complicated tax affairs and the need to make substantial efficiencies, this will continue to be the case in the coming financial year,”

I keep hearing this. Where exactly are all of these taxpayers with newly complicated affairs? I can't say I've noticed any discernible difference in the past 10 years.

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By daz.coad
21st Jul 2023 09:43

There is no increase, HMRC thinks there is because the technical knowledge of their staff has fallen so low that it is HMRC who are finding everything more complicated.

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
19th Jul 2023 16:46

I think what they may mean is that successive Budgets have made people's affairs more complex, not least for example the 3 different rates of NI in the space of about 5 months last tax year. But probably they dare not say this in case Stalin gets to hear about it and purges the writer.

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Tornado
By Tornado
20th Jul 2023 00:31

"The Charter annual report was published alongside HMRC annual accounts and performance review. HMRC used the performance review to spread the same message about the digitising of services as being a way to get on top of the traditional phone and post services, which remains a challenge for the tax department. "

What a load of rubbish. Forget the fancy words and aspirations, (same old, same old) and just answer the phones and letters quickly and accurately, and that is all there is too it.

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Replying to Tornado:
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By Pam Moreland
24th Jul 2023 13:35

My view exactly. I made two calls to the agent line last week, total wait time over an hour. And don't get me started on the CGT line.
HMRC - please do not give me 'there is lots of useful information on our website'.
If I could elicit a response from the website or the digital assistant would not be telephoning in the first place. I am now routinely waiting over 6 months for a reply to correspondence. Now after the third chaser I am making a formal complaint and threatening to claim costs. The response to complaints is now a 12 week wait (used to be a month).
However we are threatened if we do not reply to a VAT enquiry within 14 days!!!!
Just employ sufficient staff with sufficient knowledge. That would help.

However - I have only had one claim for costs turned down. But that is actually taxpayers money paying out for HMRC inefficiencies for other tax payers. Just moving funds from one cost centre to another - a bit like student loans.

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By OrmeGoat
21st Jul 2023 09:37

Do these comments make a scrap of difference to what HMRC will do? It's a no from me.

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By michael2022A
21st Jul 2023 09:47

I've actually started completing the surveys after phoning HMRC on the basis that if I dont complain nothing will change. The most common answer is no I couldnt do what I wanted to today, why, well after 30 mins on hold the call was answered and I was immediately cut-off!

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Replying to michael2022A:
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By Susan56
21st Jul 2023 09:55

I've had that too, but the current thing with the HMRC phone lines seems to be the automatic cut off along the lines of we are unable to answer your call today, goodbye... That after having to listen to the mind numbing on hold loop as well. I have the distinct feeling that refusing to take calls is one way of reducing the HMRC average call time.

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Replying to Susan56:
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By bendybod
21st Jul 2023 10:48

I firmly believe this - the cut offs don't get included in the average call wait length, I suspect.

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By djtax
21st Jul 2023 10:02

Whilst credit due to the PBs for their input, HMRC no longer take a blind bit of notice what we professionals say. The top HMRC management are so far removed from the grassroots reality that sadly they really do believe all is wonderful in their utopian tax paradise (aka cloud cuckoo land).

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By ralan
21st Jul 2023 10:05

So does this mean we can all stop filing accounts until the Government get their act together and who will pay any penalties for not filing accounts, if any?

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By Ammie
21st Jul 2023 10:10

The charter and performance report is yet another expensive tick box compliance task to self serve and satisfy the public how well the organisation is performing, when we all know it is far from reality.

We all know it is a toothless exercise of little value other than to substantiate the work of senior levels of HMRC, a form of self praise. A true representation can only be provided by the users of the services.

HMRC would be better redirecting the resources in producing the information to desperate front line user needs.

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By johnjenkins
21st Jul 2023 11:48

So how long before HMRC grind to a halt? May seem a stupid question but Jimbob says "it's hard to meet standards with a reduced departmental budget and we are relying on a more extensive use of online services from tax payers". He has actually said HMRC cannot function without our and tax payers help. That has actually always been the case but Jimbob must be pretty desperate to come out and say it.

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By [email protected]
22nd Jul 2023 16:40

How very disappointing to read that standards are still so low. Encouraging taxpayers to engage using accounting technology and without providing a matching service for " when things go wrong" is hopeless.
The recent suspension of the telephone enquiry service is simply another symptom of the HMRC inability to meet taxpayers on an equal footing.
So little has been done to improve Customer Service Standards since I stood down as chairman of the professional bodies representatives on Working Together. So many things are still lacking in taxpayer engagement.
In their Annual Report HMRC claim to have gathered £ 814bn in 2022/2023, an increase of 11.3%. What a shame they have not been allowed to keep some of it to improve their own services.

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Replying to [email protected]:
Tornado
By Tornado
22nd Jul 2023 22:54

"What a shame they have not been allowed to keep some of it to improve their own services."

I think the point to note here is that they have had large amounts of cash at their disposal and have spent some £3,000 million of it on the failed MTD project when that money could have been spent much more wisely on improving and developing existing systems.

I have no sympathy with HMRC and the pathetic situation that they are in at the moment. It is a situation that is of thier own making and could have been avoided with competent managagement.

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Replying to [email protected]:
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By Hugo Fair
23rd Jul 2023 16:16

' ..without providing a matching service for " when things go wrong" ..'
.. is the heart of the HMRC cultural malaise.

Because they won't/can't admit to responsibility let alone accountability, they aren't prepared to admit of the concept of 'thing going wrong' ... which only leaves 'customer errors' as a possible description!
That in turn means that specifications aren't built around even fully validating data entry (thereby preventing things from going wrong downstream) ... but most importantly of all there are no/few routines to facilitate correction of errors (because "they don't really happen do they and aren't our fault anyway"!)

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By AndrewV12
27th Jul 2023 09:02

'A survey conducted across a group of more than 900 tax agents and taxpayers found that HMRC scored the lowest on the charter standard of “being responsive” with an average score of 2.3 out of 10.

The Charter standards ‘Making things easy’ and ‘getting things right’ scored slightly higher, at 2.7 and 3.4 respectively. '

I don't think their that bad, on the right day with the right member of HMRC staff on the other end of the phone there pretty good.

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