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Covid hampers HMRC's quarterly performance scores

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HMRC's quarterly customer service performance report highlights successes dealing with Covid guidance while day-to-day measures continue to slump. 

21st Jul 2021
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HMRC’s interim performance statistics covering 2020 to 2021 highlights the tax office’s role in the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic but also exposes the effect this has had on other services. 

These figures are subject to change until the final figures are published in their annual report and accounts in autumn 2021.

Call handling 

HMRC’s priority over this period was to deliver and support the government’s Covid-19 support packages. As AccountingWEB members complained over the last year of the deterioration of HMRC agent dedicated line, the tax office deployed more than 5,000 customer advisers to handle its Covid-19 helpline opened on 16 March 2020. 

HMRC customer advisers handled 2.5m customer calls across all lines and by the end of the first quarter of 2020 to 2021 the average wait time was 3:06 minutes. The average wait time peaked in December to 14:12 minutes, but by March this year the wait time plummeted to 1:16 minutes, with only 99,921 call attempts. 

The speed of calls answered on the Covid helpline was a stark contrast to the agent dedicated line, where the average speed of answer was 12:04mins in 2020/21, and agents faced further heartache when the line was withdrawn in March 2020. 

The average call waiting times throughout the past year were outlined as:

  • 17:34 minutes during March 2021
  • 15:23 minutes during quarter 4
  • 12:04 minutes over the whole financial year

“This falls short of the high standards we want to deliver, and we’re sorry about the inconvenience this has caused to people at busy times,” the HMRC report stated. It explains that the wait times increased during quarter 4 due to the demand, a 2m call increase to 9.6m compared to quarter three.

HMRC also reported that a change in demands required it to flexibly deploy and train colleagues. An example of this was with P87 claims, which included home expenses where the tax office received a 70% increase in claims compared to the same time last year. 

“The complexity of dealing with these claims, as well as extra post items related to repayments and other Covid-19 related issues, resulted in longer post turnaround times in the second half of the year, despite an overall reduction of 9% in demand for our post services across the year,” said the report.

Tax Faculty criticises ‘poor performance’

While ICAEW’s Tax Faculty acknowledged that the task of Covid-19 and the EU exit work needed significant resources, it criticised the tax office’s extremely poor performance of 45% of callers having to wait more than 10 minutes - an increase from 30% in 2019/20.  

“The last time that HMRC met its targets of average call waiting time of less than five minutes and no more than 15% of callers waiting for more than 10 minutes was 2017/18, which suggests that there are fundamental problems.”

The Tax Faculty also poured scorn on HMRC’s handling of correspondence. The tax office failed to meet its target to deal with 80% of post within 15 working days again - achieving 64% in 2020/21. 

ICAEW members have reported delays in processing registrations, agent authorisations, tax returns and repayments. ICAEW members also reported that recent correspondence is being processed before older items, which is the result of HMTC ring-fencing backlogs and dealing with them separately. 

AccountingWEB member Jamiea4f recently noted, “Six months waiting for a response to a letter asking for a tax refund for a client is beyond belief.”

ICAEW’s criticism comes after the professional body called out HMRC earlier this year for its poor performance in a public plea to improve their service levels.

Biggest source of frustration for AWEB community

The ever-increasing call waiting times has undoubtedly been the most discussed point of concern for AccountingWEB members throughout the last year:

“One chap came back very indignant after he had twice waited over 45 minutes for his call to be answered, only to be hung up on before he’d even managed to get so much as a ‘hello’ in,” said one member of a client. “He was aghast to find that this was quite normal, and that we regularly start work early just to try and get a call answered at all.”

The agent dedicated line was restored on 14 June on a trial basis, with HMRC committing to cutting the wait times to 10 minutes and encouraging agents to use its digital services. 

While there is an appreciation for the struggles caused by the mayhem of the pandemic fallout, some AWEB members have had enough: “None of this is to do with Covid. It shows what happens to a system which is already broken when you give a huge kick, it just fragments and shatters,” commented ireallyshouldknowthisbut.

“Cannot expect any improvement. It was broke before Covid and will be broke for years after,” added Paul Crowley.

However, according to the report HMRC managed to achieve a record high in customer satisfaction levels with their digital services:

  • 85.2% on average across the financial year.
  • 83.3% in quarter 4.
  • The Covid helpline delivered an overall customer satisfaction rating of 95%

The report also charted HMRC’s success in delivering the Covid support schemes, the UK’s transition from the EU and its debt and compliance activity. Here is a round up of those key stats up until the end of March 2021.

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Replies (15)

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By DMBAcc
21st Jul 2021 10:40

I have a picture of the Titanic in my head

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By snickersinatwix
21st Jul 2021 10:58

I have the perfect solution for HMRC.

They can take all of the staff who have continued to steam ahead with the implementation of MTD for the self employed and rental clients and put them back into to work sorting out the backlog and the helplines instead of increasing our stress when they can't even deal with their own mess.

Thanks (14)
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By Charityguy
21st Jul 2021 11:35

A great summary Tallula, unfortunately, there is no incentive for HMRC to improve. They are measured by how much tax they bring in... and they are going for lots of low-hanging fruit at the moment.

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Replying to Charityguy:
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By BrianL
21st Jul 2021 12:00

And, if this is as far as HMRC's analysis of their performance goes, it will never improve. How much of the demand on call centre staff is failure demand, e.g. caused by poor information sent out to tax payers or agents, who then have to ring in to seek clarification? Are they counting dropped calls? Does anyone do any analysis of flow through their key processes? What are the constraints? Etc.

Thanks (1)
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By Hugo Fair
21st Jul 2021 12:33

Ever decreasing circles of ineptitude. Spouting selective stats (HMRC not Tallula) is deliberately designed to hide the truth ... that 'client service' and 'responsiveness' are seen as a box-ticking hindrance to their 'real jobs'.

It should be obvious that poor guidance published late will lead to an increase in 'contact attempts' by the benighted taxpayer and/or agents ... and that frustrated/inaccurate responses in turn lead to poor quality returns being submitted OR letters being sent to request assistance (which, when ignored for months, lead to multiple follow-up calls/letters) ... a vicious cycle with an exponential increase in inefficiency.

In short, less and less gets achieved - whilst more and more non-HMRC people try to pick up the slack on behalf of the country (even though only HMRC get the funds for any of this)!

Thanks (2)
Replying to Hugo Fair:
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By BrianL
21st Jul 2021 16:50

As I said - failure demand. Failure demand is not value demand. Staff may be busy, but that's not the same as satisfying value demand, which is what they should be doing. Until someone high up in the organisation realises that there is a difference between being busy and doing useful work, HMRC won't improve. As well as happier taxpayers & agents, staff will be happier too if they aren't wasting their lives fending off angry callers and clearing up the mess that the senior managers have created. Why the 'senior managers'? Because it is they, and not the 'workers', who design the system within which the workers operate.

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By tedbuck
21st Jul 2021 12:44

Well, at least we have a new superlative -

Lies, dam**ed lies, statistics and HMRC stats.

What annoys me most is the smug attitude of those who deal with complaints which shouldn't need to be made in the first place and then 'prove' their case with made up statistics cherry picking the less bad ones.

I have clients who have spent 2 hours on the phone to HMRC - trying to get through - and then being cut off as soon as they do get through. It is an absolute disgrace but seems typical of civil servants these days.

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By Virgil
21st Jul 2021 12:44

We could all get 100% performance reviews if we concentrated only on submitting VAT returns and just dropped SATR or CT for a while, but instead we've had to deal with the same deadlines (even where there has been an announced postponement, the accounts or the returns have still had to be prepared on time), and had to deal with the additional Covid-19 support required by clients. Wouldn't it have been a joy to be able to just put our normal calls on hold for a couple of months while we dealt solely with Covid-19 queries? HMRC haven't afforded us that luxury.

Thanks (7)
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By Virgil
21st Jul 2021 12:48

And another thing, there's nothing more annoying than spending 30+ minutes listening to a recorded message telling us that we might be able to find the answer on HMRC's web-site, when we've already wasted time looking trawling through it. No accountant in their right mind is going to sit waiting on the 'phone for HMRC to answer, if they could, quickly and easily, find the answer on their web-site.

Thanks (8)
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By North East Accountant
21st Jul 2021 13:12

Make all HMRC staff self employed with fees linked to productivity/output/turnaround time.......bet we get quicker replies to our letters then.

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By mark southgate
21st Jul 2021 13:45

I find it somewhat amusing that the ICAEW have complained regarding HMRC poor call handling. Has anyone tried to speak to their Technical Helpline recently??

On several occasions i have tried to contact them only to find they are not taking telephone calls. Okay, we can use webchat - get through to someone on webchat who very kindly provides a call reference but then tells you they are busy and to contact them again later at a less busy time!!!

Errrr Deja Vu......

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By Arbitrary
21st Jul 2021 13:53

I failed to get through to HMRC at all throughout the winter. I hung on several times for 30 minutes and then gave up and eventually gave up altogether trying. Now HMRC is answering the Agents Dedicated Line in 10 minutes or so, but this is not helping as a promise to get a call by a specific date failed to elicit one and when I phoned a week after that date I was told that the person answering the phone was unable to do anything about it except pass on my message (I have still heard nothing). I have not had any letters answered or actioned since ones sent early December 2020. There are not a lot of such letters as mine is a small business. The idea that HMRC's stats reflect any sort of truth (i.e. the facts used are very carefully selected) is farcical. I retain some sympathy for HMRC's position as a result of Covid but the position before Covid of not opening correspondence for 6 or so weeks had been going on for a very long time already. All the matters I have written to HMRC about could not be dealt with digitally. I award them 'Nul points' presently. To this mess they are adding MTD. Good grief!

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By Mr J Andrews
21st Jul 2021 14:43

All pretty meaningless stuff when you consider there's no accountability.

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
23rd Jul 2021 14:44

I can only direct members to my comment here:

https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/practice/general-practice/accountants-lo...

It starts:
HMRC have been a major pain. I'm currently hanging on the phone for someone in the VAT 'helpline' to answer as I need to :
1. change my agents address
2, get them to reauthenticate a client so I can submit this quarters VAT return. Been fine for years up until now and suddenly ... no period shown. Software providers says its not them.

I've already been cut off twice.

I've tried at different times of the day over last week so this morning decided just to ring and wait and wait.

>> as an update - I went in to my software the next day and all obligation periods for June had disappeared - even those that had been submitted.

All except one has now returned.

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By Michael C Feltham
26th Jul 2021 12:32

The Covid-19 Pandemic has proved an answer to a Maiden's Prayer, not just for already and institutionlised incompetence demonstrated by Government Agencies, particularly, HMRC, but also major public companies who have set-up communications firewalls. Try calling BT, for example!

The most galling aspect of much of this, is the venal strategy adopted by these devious money grabbers in using cunning telecom tariff charging; in other words, all the time the increasingly angry caller is compelled to listen to dumb synthesized electronic Muzak and announcements stating the classic lie "Your call is important to us!", YOU are paying extra for the call!

Plus, as one respondent has already waxed lyrically upon, the utterly dumb suggestion to "...look at our website" - which have been designed, if one can so dignify such abortions - by some spotty-faced "Script Kiddy" with no pre-design architecture, is ab out as much practical use as a one legged man at an [***] kicking party!

With all the advances in knowledge-based and Neural Network Systems. now being archaic, then there are no cogent excuses...

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