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Arrows pointing down | AccountingWEB | HMRC blasted for all-time low customer service
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HMRC blasted for ‘all-time low’ customer service

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As a new report shows that HMRC customer service levels continue to deteriorate, Sarah Olney MP, who sits on the Public Accounts Committee, spoke to AccountingWEB about the disappointing and predictable results.

28th Feb 2024
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The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has expressed disappointment after service levels at HMRC continued a five-year decline. Written evidence to the PAC inquiry about the tax authority’s performance demonstrated taxpayers’ exasperation.

Since the PAC’s last report in January 2023, HMRC’s performance has “continued to deteriorate”.

The data shows that in 2022/23, a total of 62.7% of callers waited more than 10 minutes to speak to an adviser. This was up from 46.3% in 2021/22.

HMRC told the PAC’s inquiry that it “did not have the resources to meet rising demand for its phone and post services at expected standards” and is instead “directing callers to use digital services, which it insists are good quality”.

However, the PAC noted that it had received “a lot of evidence to the contrary from taxpayers and their agents”.

“The committee agreed its report before the publication of the HMRC consultation response, which indicated that it will not now require digital interaction until a service is of a suitable standard.”

Quite predictable

Speaking to AccountingWEB, Sarah Olney MP, member of the PAC, said the results of the report were “quite predictable”.

“It’s obviously disappointing and it’s really a letdown for taxpayers that they aren’t getting a better service from HMRC,” she added.

“One of the points we make in the report is that actually it was quite predictable that there would be an increase in demand for support for taxpayers. The tax thresholds have been frozen over the past few years, so that means there are more people being brought into paying tax for the first time, and of course, more people paying tax rates for the first time.

“So there will be an increase in people who suddenly find that they’re needing advice, and we’re definitely seeing an increase in demand for these services.”

Important to get right

Olney said it was “distressing” to find people who “want to get it right, who have no intention whatsoever of defrauding the Exchequer, but just find it really, really difficult to access the right support”.

“In failing to access the right support, they’re liable. It’s not on HMRC – even if the services are difficult to access, it’s still the responsibility of the taxpayer to get their tax right. So when people do have slightly more complex arrangements, they’re at great risk of somehow being in breach without the support they really need.

“It really is important that HMRC get this right.”

Fresh investment

There have been long-standing calls for HMRC to secure new investment, with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) pushing for fresh backing earlier this year in a bid to streamline registrations, simplify the tax system and boost research and development (R&D) spending.

Olney noted that there “probably is” some investment needed and added that “there are – as with lots of public sector organisations – recruitment issues”.

“But I think there is also something there about priorities,” she said. The report’s data reveals that there has been a “significant reduction” in criminal prosecutions by HMRC, from 691 in 2019/20 to 240 in 2022/23.

HMRC says that it is increasingly selective in using its criminal investigation powers and seeking prosecution – in part due to backlogs in the criminal justice system – but the PAC is concerned that if fewer criminals are prosecuted, “this sends the wrong message”.

Olney added: “This does seem to indicate that they are not putting the resources into some of the tax-collecting activities that could really make the difference.

“So I think there’s definitely something there about not having the resources that they need but equally, a smarter allocation of the resources that they do have could see a much better return for taxpayers.”

Online encouragement

An HMRC spokesperson said: “We’re making strong progress improving our customer services, with a focus on encouraging people to deal with us online where they can, by providing quicker, easier and always available digital services.

“Millions more people used our highly rated online services last year – saving them waiting on the phone and freeing up our advisers to deal with those people who need extra support.

“People used our app and online services more than 200m times last year with an 80% satisfaction rate, while three-quarters of all customer correspondence was answered in 15 working days – a significant improvement on the 45% in 2021/22.”

Replies (34)

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By SteveHa
28th Feb 2024 09:03

I used HMRC digital services yesterday afternoon, culminating in contacting HMRC via webchat (which last time I looked, is a digital service), only to be told after 30 minutes that I would need to call the ADL - for a tax code amendment, that would have taken them less than two minutes.

Despite protestations, they refused. Transcript was immediately sent to the office of Jim Harra for his latest excuses.

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By FactChecker
28th Feb 2024 09:42

“People used our app and online services more than 200m times last year with an 80% satisfaction rate, while three-quarters of all customer correspondence was answered in 15 working days – a significant improvement on the 45% in 2021/22.”

Says it all really ... HMRC are *honestly* proud that 40m 'usages' p.a. of their prestige support services result in a dissatisfied 'customer'!
In what other world would this be considered less than catastrophic?

Has anyone tried calculating the loss of economic efficiency this is having on the UK?
Nothing complex, just the time wasted (by taxpayers and professionals) in achieving nothing during the time spent 'hanging on the line' (often fruitlessly) ... the equivalent of which still happens when online/app/chat facilities fail you and send you on endless loops to digital dead-ends.

And that's before factoring in things like duplicated (and worse) calls due to the first attempt not succeeding or taxpayers giving up and just using a figure that generates a lower bill (because 'if they can't answer my call they're never going to check my return are they' as someone said to me just yesterday)!

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Replying to FactChecker:
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By johnjenkins
28th Feb 2024 10:07

Classic yesterday. Client likes to do things on his own with a little help from me.
He sent a letter to HMRC last May asking for instructions on how to claim Roll over relief (EIS Deferral) on shares so that we could do his 2022/23 tax return accurately (and claim CGT refund). I looked and cribbed as we had no answer from HMRC. I was pleased with the result. Yesterday 27th Feb we got a reply asking for tax computations to be sent. Here's the best bit. "Once we have the computation, we will be able to action the EIS Deferral claim IF NOT ALREADY CLAIMED ON YOUR TAX RETURN". Someone obviously didn't look at the tax return properly.

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By FactChecker
28th Feb 2024 09:58

BTW, a bit of a freudian slip in the extracted quote from Sarah Olney:
"It’s not on HMRC – even if the services are difficult to access, it’s still the responsibility of the taxpayer to get their tax rate"
I know HMRC claim all these nuisance callers are doing silly things like checking their tax code, but the responsibility of taxpayers is to get their tax right (not just the rate).

Also it might have been a good idea to include a link to the Report ("HMRC performance in 2022–23: a House of Commons Committee report with recommendations to government"), published today, on which Sarah was commenting:
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5804/cmselect/cmpubacc/76/report...

It contains strong stuff like the very 1st of Conclusions and Recommendations:
1. HMRC’s customer service levels are at an all-time low because of conscious choices made by HMRC and HM Treasury. Since we last reported in January 2023, performance has continued to deteriorate ...
... HMRC insists it has good-quality digital services for customers to manage their taxes but this is not the experience shared by the taxpayers and their agents that got in touch with us.

And, almost as a throwaway remark (in the midst of 'Supporting taxpayers' item 2):
"HMRC did not meet any of the service standards it set to measure its customer service performance in 2022–23"!

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Replying to FactChecker:
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By Simon_GNR
28th Feb 2024 10:13

The perils of relying on a software spelling checker rather than a human proof reader.

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By FactChecker
28th Feb 2024 10:16

I was waiting to be castigated for ignoring the possibility of the author being a Geordie!

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By johnjenkins
28th Feb 2024 10:27

That wouldn't be reet

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Donald MacKenzie
By Donald MacKenzie
28th Feb 2024 10:14

I called HMRC this week to say a former client has received a VAT penalty letter despite having ceased trading and having struck off the company early last year. It took over fifty minutes for the call to be picked up. I explained the company has closed down. I conceded I am not agent of (non-existent) company but the call handler would not accept that it is impossible to make me agent of non-existent company.

Surely there must be some common sense SOMEWHERE in HMRC. But perhaps not.

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By petestar1969
28th Feb 2024 10:33

The waiting times quoted here seem much lower than reality..... Roll on the report to April 2024...

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-68413088

I don't call HMRC often, for obvious reasons, but it never takes them less than 30 minutes to answer, even on the ADL.

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By WhiteRose
28th Feb 2024 10:56

Just tried the webchat, I had all the relevant client details/codes/my agent details ready in advance, so I popped them all into the box when I was (finally) connected to an advisor.
They then told me they couldn't help as I had provided information they hadn't asked for, and they had no further security questions to ask me. Bye-bye!
Back to the drawing board.

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By vinylnobbynobbs
28th Feb 2024 11:00

I today received a letter replying to my letter to HMRC of 28/03/2023.
Less than 12 months, a definite improvement.

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By Mr J Andrews
28th Feb 2024 11:09

What's the point ?
Sarah Olney is the latest in a long line of M.P.s - and others within the ''establishment'' to correctly announce the proven failings within this all time low HMRC under the Harra leadership.
Another unidentified HMRC ''spokesman'' offers encouragement, progress and statistical crap, which clearly is a load of fabrication, if AW readers factual comments and Joe Public's dismay and despondency are concerned with the pathetic service.
We all know what is required - starting with new leadership and accountability for such all round rotten performances . As for ''Fresh Investment'' , a simple return to the status quo would be a good start.
No doubt we'll see another AW article is a month or so from a different member of the establishment slamming HMRC yet again for such a dysfunctional service , making suggestions ; followed by another HMRC spokesman with the usual dumb response. It goes on.
And meanwhile , index linked pension date draws nearer and #### all is done .

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By BrianL
28th Feb 2024 11:22

The article said that "Since the PAC’s last report in January 2023, HMRC’s performance has “continued to deteriorate”. The data shows that in 2022/23, a total of 62.7% of callers waited more than 10 minutes to speak to an adviser. This was up from 46.3% in 2021/22."

These data are useless. The performance could have improved OR deteriorated. Imagine that, in 2022/23, 62.7% waited for 11 minutes (i.e. more than 10 minutes) but in 2021/22 46.3% waited for 50 minutes (i.e. also more than 10 minutes). I posit that 2022/23 would be seen to be an improvement, from the waiting taxpayers' viewpoint, over the prior year.
We need much more information.
BTW, I'm not suggesting that the performance HAS improved. Just that you can't tell anything from the data provided.

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By PAULLEWISFCCA
28th Feb 2024 12:01

Extortion racketeers try and improve their image by calling their victims, customers....

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By PAULLEWISFCCA
28th Feb 2024 12:03

"Millions more people used our highly rated online services last year"

is there any evidence to back up this statement

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Replying to PAULLEWISFCCA:
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By Homeworker
28th Feb 2024 12:38

and do they know how many attempted to use the service and failed because their questions weren't understood? I've tried twice and even using simple words they just didn't get it..

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Replying to PAULLEWISFCCA:
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By neanderthal
28th Feb 2024 14:51

well, using (or trying to) their online systems is one thing and using it efficiently to solve their issue is another - why dont they say how many used it satisfactorily and how many others gave up after trying to use it?

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By GHarr497688
28th Feb 2024 12:36

For me HMRC are so bad that I took an opportunity to retire earlier than planned with HMRC performance one of the deciding factors. When I used to ring HMRC I encountered utter disrespect from staff who never answered the question or hung up , when I wrote letters went unanswered and I had to enlist the help of my Local MP to obtain replies , digital tools didn't work as an example I was directed to child tax credits when I asked about something completely different. I have endured almost ten years of the Making Tax Digital threat and have been treated with complete contempt by HMRC MTD Experience Team for VAT . All these inadequacies within HMRC control have led to clients being frustrated and upset which had led to more and more pressure on me leading to mental health issues were the NHS then need to become involved. I have been working in the Accountancy profession since 1979 and have been staff and business owner so I have good insight. The single thing that annoys me is the defence HMRC to justify poor performance and the way analysis is "fiddled" by clever questions asked by Digital surveys - the questions are asked in such a way that the response will lead to a positive for 80% of answers thus giving an impression all is working fine when actually they are not dealing with the important stuff. The time has come to stop the propaganda and get to the bottom of what's happening. They need a independent body to audit them.

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By K81
28th Feb 2024 13:35

I contacted NICO concerning a letter that i sent in July 2023 - they told me over the phone that NICO have a 55 week turnaround for replying to letters, they confirmed they have my letter & I should receive a reply by 18 August 2024.

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By johnjenkins
28th Feb 2024 13:43

Their reply will be. Thanks we are looking into it.

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By K81
28th Feb 2024 14:02

I had not thought of that!

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Tornado
By Tornado
28th Feb 2024 13:51

The level of support offered by HMRC is in a downward spiral. The worse the service gets, the worse it gets. Problems that are not dealt with properly in the first place become problems on top of problems, and so on.

This situation is easily solved by providing an efficient service in the first place. The problem seems to be, however, that HMRC are not at all interested in providing an efficient service. (Take a look at a few episodes of 'YES MINISTER' to get an idea as to why this might be.

"It’s not on HMRC – even if the services are difficult to access, it’s still the responsibility of the taxpayer to get their tax rate (sic)"

Although it seems correct to say that it is the Taxpayer's responsibility to get their taxes right, it is implied that there are adequate resources available to help them, which there clearly is not. How can you expect ordinary people without appropriate qualifications to deal with some confusing tax matters at even basic levels, when the tax system is so complicated. It is just not acceptable to expect people to deal with these matters without support.

I can accept, however, that the tax system is becoming ever more complicated day by day, mainly due to the meddling of successive Chancellors who have not understood the 'Spreadsheet' effect of changing Policy at one point and failing to recognise the effect this has on multiple places elsewhere in the spreadsheet.

The fact is that we are governed by a bunch on Numpties and a Civil Service that no longer wants to provide any type of service.

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By indomitable
28th Feb 2024 14:03

"Millions more people used our highly rated online services last year " And what planet is this HMRC spokesperson living on??

And for the MP's - Talk, Talk, Talk - we regret this! not acceptable that! - BUT NO ACTION - Sack the head of HMRC and all the senior management team get senior people in from the private sector to sort this mess out, give them key deliverables and expect results. How hard can it be? Seems to me these civil servants make fundamental mistakes and do not have a clue about delivery, everything is about stakeholders, diversity, committees, more about process than outcome!

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By WhiteRose
28th Feb 2024 14:38

The other problem with the long wait times is that you have to steel yourself to get in touch with them about smaller issues. Some days I just can't face trying to deal with them.

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Replying to WhiteRose:
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By johnjenkins
28th Feb 2024 14:43

Bit of reverse phycology. They make the service so bad that no one contacts them, then they can say that tax payers and agents haven't needed to contact them as the online stuff is so good.

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By rockallj
28th Feb 2024 15:52

As this survey is to January 2023 it’ll be interesting to see how HMRC spin the “improvements” of the last 12 months:-

Helplines closed for much of the year, particularly at key busy times

Agent services effectively rescinded

6 months + for VAT registrations

6 months + for PAYE scheme registrations

12months + for responses to routine written correspondence

Ineffectual “digital” services eg web chat.

No wonder productivity is poor! Wait times are appalling to be answered & even longer than the “quick” (ish) phone call we used to have.

So much has been wasted on MTD to the detriment of basic services elsewhere. Digital cannot plug holes in a failing, under resourced system. Scrap trying to be clever with new tech & just do the basics properly, PLEASE!

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
28th Feb 2024 17:39

I am consistent in my ratings with HMRC, EVERY time I log on and they ask me to rate them. I rate them :

that I was not able to do what I wanted today, that it was very difficult and I am very dissatisfied. I comment that "MTD needs to be scrapped."

I commend this approach to everyone reading this.

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By johnjenkins
29th Feb 2024 11:28

Do you really think that HMRC even read the comments. No, of course you don't.
HMRC states that that have positive feed back but not saying that the "positive" is positive that MTD ITSA should be scrapped.

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By vinylnobbynobbs
29th Feb 2024 11:43

And so this morning tried to telephone HMRC on the ADL.
On both occasions I was advised that they could not take my call and hung up. two calls dealt with in under 5 minutes?

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Replying to vinylnobbynobbs:
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By johnjenkins
29th Feb 2024 11:59

Thank you for boosting their statistics.

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By Self-Employed and Happy
29th Feb 2024 12:09

Searching for this whilst on hold.

Client received a letter this month saying she owes £1k.

Checks HMRC Portal and they have made an adjustment to the tax return resulting in an extra £1k of tax, the adjustment is dated 05/02/24, no tax calculation to tell us what the adjustment is, of course interest accruing, phoned a couple of times in the last week or so, both times waited 35 minutes to be met with "beep beep beep" and the line is gone.

Currently at 35 minutes as I type....

HMRC will be the reason loads of young professionals knock this career on the head, they are a...

No way, "beep beep beep"

FFS!

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Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
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By PAULLEWISFCCA
29th Feb 2024 17:09

good luck - on hold 70 mins this morning due to them issuing a late filing penalty - tax return was filed but never actioned. I spoke to them back in November about the same issue and they told me then that they would look into it by Feb 20224 - but they haven't

is it time for a taxpayer revolt

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Replying to PAULLEWISFCCA:
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By Latinaid
29th Feb 2024 20:25

PAULLEWISFCCA wrote:

it will get worse https://www.ukauthority.com/articles/gds-and-hmrc-plan-beta-phase-for-on...

A car crash in the making.

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