Covid hampers HMRC's quarterly performance scoresby
HMRC's quarterly customer service performance report highlights successes dealing with Covid guidance while day-to-day measures continue to slump.
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.
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line, where the average speed of answer was 12:04mins in 2020/21, and agents faced further heartache when the line was withdrawn in March 2020.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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