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The Chancellor Jeremy Hunt
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Chancellor urged to invest in HMRC service levels

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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.

1st Mar 2023
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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.  

Replies (14)

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By Hugo Fair
01st Mar 2023 15:09

Hallelujah, but also hmmm!

The letter may be a model of polite soft-soaping, but it pulls nearly all the punches available to the authors ... so will allow Hunt to treat it as yet another begging letter from 'interested parties' - who can therefore be regarded as 'just another bunch of whingers'.

Very little detail let alone hard argument/justification for increased investment ... and no suggestion that priorities may need to be shifted more than mere spending.

Most importantly, absolutely no suggestions for specific actions needed to implement the necessary changes (both short-term and long-term ones).

Waffle city!

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Replying to Hugo Fair:
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By Hugo Fair
01st Mar 2023 15:43

BTW if anyone wonders why I referred to "another begging letter from 'interested parties" ... look at the rather short list of complaints in the letter and *then* at the following extract:

".. a third of tax agents do not belong to professional bodies. Responsible businesses should always ensure that their accountants and tax agents are members of a professional body which has strong codes of ethics and practice" - or, please make it a closed shop for our members!

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By GHarr497688
01st Mar 2023 17:24

I agree with the letter and totally accept that HMRC standards fall far short of what is required by a Government Department. I strongly disagree with the snide comment about professional bodies and qualifications. In my life to date I have seen so called chartered accountants deliver awful services to taxpayers , I have assisted with firing a chartered accountant and also checked a chartered accountants work that was not trusted by the firm I worked for. What is required is investment in HMRC staffing levels and training in addition to an Accountants regulatory body similar to Money Laundering department. If a regulated accountant is also registered with a professional body then that would just add credibility to their work. Another very important point is wether the unqualified Accountant has professional indemnity insurance.

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Replying to GHarr497688:
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By Arcadia
03rd Mar 2023 10:27

We already have a plethora of accountancy regulatory bodies ready set up and operating! All that is needed is compulsion to join one.

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By Beancounter55
03rd Mar 2023 10:32

Unless I am completely dense I fail to see on my personal tax account where it is possible to notify HMRC that their estimate of my earnings for the next financial year is incorrect. I can update pension income, but not earned income.
HMRC believes that I will be working in the 23/24 tax year for an employer from whom they received a P45 in December 2022. This obviously has an impact on the taxation of any pension income, as the assumption has been made that I will be taxed at 40%.
I spent over 40 minutes waiting on the phone for someone to answer and make an adjustment to the coding; in the end I gave up and wrote a letter.
In case Jim Harra bothers to read this website, perhaps he can explain how I can notify HMRC of their error using my personal online tax account.

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Replying to Beancounter55:
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By unclejoe
03rd Mar 2023 11:10

I have had a similar experience. I have pension income, a chunk of which comes from a SIPP. I received my tax code for next year in the post, but the tax code was reduced as "we estimate some of your income is taxable at a higher rate". The Notice tells me that I can go online to change it. On the login website it won't accept my login details but eventually tells me that because I "have not used the service since 2013 my account has been deactivated". So attempt to get a new account. I spend more than an hour trying to get through this process - it wants photoID which I don't have and a credit reference - the agency does not seem to know me. And it brings back unhappy memories of the last time I set up my account - that time it wanted to verify me with Barclays or some other organisations.
So I phone. After an hour waiting I have an agent - great! I try to explain that I control the income I get from my SIPP and income I draw will not result in my marginal rate going into the 40% band. It has not in the past, and it won't in the future. The agent does not seem to understand this concept and insists that the code cannot be changed. So I have had to resort to writing a letter, and just hoping that they respond to it before the end of next tax year.
The incompetence beggars belief.

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By Pam Moreland
03rd Mar 2023 11:37

Three calls to CGT line - 1 hour 30 minutes, 1 hour, 1 hour 8 minutes (the latter for a paper CGT form which never arrived), Another call - 25 minutes to get the missing form. Have you realised HMRC that there are a lot of elderly digitally excluded people.
The first two calls to chase up non processing of forms sent 4 months before. And then a late filing penalty arrived which had to be appealed. Adding insult to injury.
I was told they were overstretched and having to work overtime, well welcome to my January world.
A claim for costs has already been made.
Service, what service.

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Replying to Pam Moreland:
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By djtax
03rd Mar 2023 14:49

You ask 'Have you realised HMRC that there are a lot of elderly digitally excluded people'

Having listened to the speeches from the HMRC top two directors at their recent Annual Conference it was clear to me that they are too far removed from our grass roots real world to understand how many people struggle with technology. They even implied that 'too many' taxpayers simply did not make sufficient effort to use the available technology!

It was also very apparent that the top HMRC people really do believe the HMRC online facilities to be wonderful, foolproof and faultless!! It was so depressing to realise how little they seem to know/understand about the efficiency of their own systems. Perhaps no surprise given that the HMRC top management board now has hardly anyone with a tax background (other than Jim Harra).

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Replying to djtax:
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By johnjenkins
03rd Mar 2023 14:55

Unfortunately Jimbob is blinkered. He is now in a position that is untenable. If he pulls the plug on MTD and IR35 (which he should) he will fall into obscurity. If he carries on (which he will) he will get his knighthood while we have to correct everything that goes wrong (which it will bigtime).

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By codling
03rd Mar 2023 11:49

I am not surprised that £42bn of tax was not collected if my latest experience is anything to go by. Sixteen months ago I wrote to HMRC sending all sorts of paperwork relating to a tax liability of over £50,000 that I calculated to be due in respect of a property sold during a period of administration. To date all I have had, after 6 months had elapsed, is a request for a national insurance number relating to the deceased (which was in the paperwork sent). A reply was sent immediately and duplicates of everything sent but still nothing. Now I have sent a formal complaint.
It seems HMRC cannot be ar??ed to collect money offered to them.

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Replying to codling:
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By johnjenkins
03rd Mar 2023 12:18

They don't have the staff with the ability to check calculations or to do anything else that requires common sense. HMRC online service is a joke. Client did CGT online, paid the money, got a £100 fine for going over the 60 days (55 days) then HMRC refunded the whole CGT amount. The client is speechless. I have sent all the paperwork to Jimbob.

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By sodge2000
03rd Mar 2023 13:54

I work with a fairly new film producer. I am trying to file his CT600 to include his claim for Film Tax Credit. I have all the required documents but have been unable to find how to claim this on his form. Eventually I found a HMRC department that deals with this and emailed to ask them how to claim. They sent an email back explaining what could be claimed, info I already have from reading all the info on the HMRC site. So I after spending hours on the phone to HMRC and never getting through to the right department I called again and just said CT600. I eventually spoke to someone and asked about where to claim the FIR and he said "I don't know. I will ask someone" He came back after 10 minutes and said "we don't know. Write a letter and send that in"
I have wasted so much time on this.

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By OrmeGoat
03rd Mar 2023 16:13

You only have to look at the photo of Jeremy (I avoid using his surname in case a typo slips in) to see that he doesn't give a damn about the public, taxpayers or the profession.
Having destroyed the profession's productivity and efficiency because of the cr@p issued by HMRC he has the nerve to lecture us on the UK's low productivity.
I feel sorry for the younger members of our profession. At least us older members have less time until retirement.
P.S. 50 years ago I would never have written cr@p. Successive chancellors, of all political persuasions, have driven me to it.

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By Eddie S
06th Mar 2023 13:18

I've been waiting since 18th February 2022 for a final IHT calculation from HMRC. Obviously I can't distribute the estate. Imagine how the beneficiaries feel!!

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