Chancellor urged to invest in HMRC service levelsby
A group of professional bodies have urged Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to treat investment in HMRC as a top priority in the upcoming Spring Budget to sort out the “unacceptably low level” of customer service.
The accountancy, bookkeeping, payroll and tax professional bodies have joined forces to highlight the impact poor HMRC service levels are having on the businesses and agents.
The open letter goes on to blame insufficient resourcing and underinvestment in HMRC’s systems for causing severe delays, business disruption and frustration.
An opportunity to rectify poor service levels
Ahead of the Spring Budget on 15 March, the group of professional bodies has pushed for the Chancellor to grasp the opportunity to properly invest in HMRC and focus on improving service levels and delivery.
Using examples shared by the Public Accounts Committee, the letter claims that £42bn in taxes have not been collected while HMRC customer service staff numbers have been cut by 24% in the past five years. The letter points out that as a result of these low service levels there have been instances where HMRC has “simply closed its telephone line when it could not cope with demand”.
“At a time of economic hardship, this not only affects the amount we can spend on public services, but it also severely restricts economic growth,” said the letter.
Picking up on Hunt’s statement in the Autumn Statement that “a strong economy depends on strong public services”, the professional bodies said that HMRC provides a critical role but despite this “customer service levels delivered by HMRC have fallen to an unacceptably low level”.
The impact of delays
The group said these low levels of customer service affect taxpayers’ and agents’ ability to interact with HMRC in a timely and efficient way.
Examples of severe delays used in the letter should be familiar to anyone who has read reports from AccountingWEB readers on Any Answers recently. These include businesses waiting upwards of six months to claim repayments and reliefs, and agents bearing additional compliance costs rather than passing them on to their frustrated clients due to the additional time spent waiting on phone lines and sending chase letters to the Revenue.
The signatories of the letter concluded, “Our members are increasingly facing severe delays, business disruption and frustration when dealing with HMRC, which is having significant ramifications for taxpayers, business owners and their agents.
“If the government wants to meet its economic objectives and boost productivity, it must invest in improving customer service and effectiveness at HMRC. We urge the Chancellor to treat this as a top priority in his upcoming Budget.”
The letter was signed by representatives from AAT, ACCA, ATT, CIMA, CIPP, CIOT, ICAEW, ICAS, ICB and STEP.
History of delays
The letter lands on the doorstep of 1 Horse Guards Road after tax agents and taxpayers have experienced long wait times and delays during the busy self assessment season.
The agent-dedicated line was also restricted to only complex queries during January, and despite the line resuming to normal service in February, some AccountingWEB readers are still being told by HMRC operators that the line is only for complex queries to free up the lines as in January.
Amid reports of hour-long wait times and taxpayers being cut off without speaking to a call handler, HMRC chief executive Jim Harra told the Treasury committee that wait times would fall if “more customers use our online services”.
In what was once an uncharacteristic stance, the professional bodies have become more vocal in recent years about the Revenue’s deteriorating customer service levels.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) fired the starting pistol on calling for the Chancellor to invest in HMRC service levels in February when it called for an emergency taskforce to tackle the Revenue’s backlog.
Prior to that, in June 2022, the tax professional bodies broke from their normal diplomacy to raise concerns about service levels and the impact of the delays after being continuously contacted by their members. The aim of that joint letter was for HMRC to provide more information on areas key to the tax department’s customer service, including the performance dashboard and a response to the public accounts committee’s requests.
The avalanche of complaints directed at HMRC in 2021 even led to ICAEW publicly calling on HMRC to restore the dedicated agent line which had been suspended due to the pandemic and to improve its service levels. Even during that intervention, the professional body was urging HMRC to improve processing delays.